For a time, folk music was the only way to protest the society around you. Woody Guthrie’s fascist killing machine (his guitar) inspired a generation that included Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell to pick up a pen and a guitar and compose songs that could unify a generation and voice their discontent. In 2021, folk music has largely been left behind, instead used as a rose-tinted magnifying glass for the greenest pastures of old. Thankfully, The Staves, haven’t been paying attention to the genre script and have, once again, imbued folk music with a bit of fight.
Good Woman is the latest album from the trio, and it sees the group at their most potent, sticking their fingers up at the patriarchy and taking their pure sounds to brand new heights. Though the folk purist may be somewhat disappointed, it’s hard not to hear the traditional twists and turns the group employ to make their points. But, as with every song within the album, the real beauty lies in the delicate balance they achieve to feel both fresh and classic at the same time. The Staves have delivered a searing LP, and it’s our Album of the Week.
You’d be forgiven, when viewing the Staveley-Taylor sisters on appearance alone, for thinking that they’d be happy to play the pop game and secure themselves some Haim-like dollar. Instead, the Watford-raised trio is much more comfortable writing music that directly challenges the very game they’re supposed to be playing. Through a plethora of gilded folk ditties, the group make that point, and many others, with delicate beauty and a fearsome spirit.
Opening song ‘Good Woman’ is perhaps the most pertinent of the anti-patriarchal tunes as the group take aim at the beauty expectations on women in general. Singing “I cover my mouth and I straighten my back,” is about as potent as a message can be. Lyrically, this is certainly some of the band’s most purposeful work. ‘Paralysed’ is another example whereby The Staves deliver a lilting sound about the dissolution of a relationship but punctuate it with pain and the power that such an ordeal provides.
Musically, the group are as vibrant as ever. The Staves have always made music to lose your day to. The kind of album you stick on as one’s making breakfast only to witness the clouds visibly parting and the sun shining brighter. On Good Woman they are just as glowing, just as expertly rendered, but this time they come jam-packed with a balled fist too. For example, the introduction to ‘Careful, Kid’ — a song full of warning — is underwritten by an electro juggernaut’s industrial glitching. It soon dissipates to allow the sisters’ vocals to shine, but it’s a mark of their intent.
It’s a record that requires your attention to be truly appreciated and an album with many points to make too. Across the 12 tracks, we are given a chance to not only witness The Staves in their element but also catch them pushing themselves to go one step further. The album may have largely been conducted through voice notes and emails; the quality is there to behold. The only real downside to the record is that, if harmonising folk songs with a pop gloss aren’t your thing, well, there’s not much else here for you.
There’s no doubt that snagging the producer du jour in John Congleton for Good Woman was a coup and it has certainly made the production feel both luscious yet connected to the audience. But perhaps the most enlightening thing about this album is that it provides us with the clearest view of the sisters as they are today and as they hope to be in the future.