If a spot-the-difference game was undertaken to compare The Staves’ second LP, If I Was, and Good Woman, their third, it wouldn’t take a seasoned ear to spot those differences. Inevitable and necessary, though, is this adaptation of the Staveley-Taylor sisters’ output; there’s been more than six years between this new album and their last (not counting their collaborative 2017 release with yMusic), and those six years have carried with them some extreme highs and lows.
Good Woman was created “in a time of severe turmoil for the band, seeing the ending of relationships, the death of their beloved mother and the birth of Emily’s [Staveley-Taylor] first child”. That’s not to say this new album will be unfamiliar to The Staves’ fans- their established Bon-Iver-charming harmony-heavy folk sound is very much still kicking- only now it comes flecked in sparkly synth and twisted about in some compelling production.
Whilst Good Woman was largely self-produced, John Congleton was there to aid and influence. Angel Olsen’s 2019 All Mirrors is another album under Congleton’s extensive belt of co-producing credits; the intimacy in All Mirrors is augmented by its close-sounding production, much as it is here in Good Woman. Good Woman’s lyrical content is clearly deeply personal; the points at which the instrumentation and production work to match and further this lyrical tenderness are the best moments of the album.
That said, the album is occasionally hindered by the approach The Staves have taken towards writing emotionally candid lyrics, and slips into cliché- the worst offender being “say you will be my light in the dark”, the opening line of track seven, Sparks. One of the arguably strongest tracks though, Trying, uses linguistic simplicity to hugely powerful advantage- its refrain, “I’m sorry, you should be sorry too”, repeated with increasing intensity in compelling 5/4 rhythm, is glorious, and the punch-in-the-gut straightforward sadness of its closing line, “I’m in my room and that’s all there is” makes the immediately-followed silence pretty emotionally devastating.
Another few standout tracks are Careful, Kid, due in part to its wonderfully crunchy-sounding intro and recurrent backing, the title track, which is (perhaps inescapably!) empowered, and Failure. The latter is apparently laden with self-deprecation (“I’m sorry if I ruined the party”), before sarcastically (“so kind of you to think to remind me when I got so low”) flipping itself into an anthem of building self-acceptance and the purging of someone or something hateful.
When we think about making this album we think about moments and snapshots of all the different contexts we were in as it was made. Living in each other’s pockets and then living with oceans between us. On voice notes and field recordings and ideas in emails sent across continents. We think of homesickness and family. Of being an outsider. Of endless notebooks and scraps of paper. Of studios in the winter and recordings under the summer sun. Of rainy London days and long American night with coffees and beers, dogs and cats.We think of love. Big, big love. Our Mum. Our Dad, Our friends. And of loss. Death and birth. Womanhood, motherhood. Sisterhood. And coming home.
It’s clear this “big, big love” of The Staves’ is, both consciously and innately, inseparably woven throughout Good Woman.