Although The Staves’ new album was born out of intense loss and grief for the Staveley-Taylor sisters – Jess, Milly, and Emily – the title track inspires hope in its contemplation on what it means to be a ‘good woman’. You could expect something more mournful for the Hertfordshire folk group’s first album in six years, a record processing the death of their mother and the birth of Emily’s first child, as well as long stretches of homesickness and separation. But they’re here to prove that strength is what binds them, and that they’re raring to move forwards into the new chapter of their lives.
This new sonic expansion, a patchwork of field recordings, voice notes, gentle harmonies and earthier textures than before, is most apparent on ‘Careful, Kid’, a ballsy and somewhat melancholy address to their younger selves, reflecting on time past and the potential of youth. And then there’s ‘Failure’, with its coarse guitars and soaring vocals, which finds some kind of glee in the apology for pissing on someone’s party.
Long-time fans will find comfort in the familiar fragility of The Staves’ spellbinding acoustic ballads, particularly with the gorgeous ‘Nothing’s Gonna Happen’, which could have been a bonus track on their second album ‘If I Was’, which changed everything in 2014. ‘Paralysed’, too, moves within the same track from stripped-back ukulele towards twanging guitars and shimmering percussion, defiant in the face of the pain and uncertainty the album reckons with.
The Staves have described as the time that preceded ‘Good Woman’ as a period of hibernation, and the new album sees the Staveley-Taylor sisters emerge completely rejuvenated. Soulful but never morose, and thoughtful on the passing of time and the importance of cherishing these tiny moments, it’s a sophisticated return to form. The band originally considered calling the album ‘Trying’, after its most plainly vulnerable track – but elsewhere there’s a more galvanising mission statement, which conveys the confidence in knowing what is good already, and this feels more apt. They convey their strength best with the album’s closer ‘Waiting on Me To Change’: “I’ll change when I want to.”
Release date: February 5
Record label: Atlantic