Album Review: The Staves – Good Woman

The Staves’ third full-length album Good Woman is both a reinvention and a homecoming. The trio of sisters get raw in this album, finding a new sound that is as compelling and complex as it is authentic. 

Good Woman is laced with cynicism, criticism, and humour born of the several hard years that Jess, Emily, and Camilla have endured since their 2015 album If I Was. In that time, the sisters faced some of life’s biggest transitions and tragedies: the death of a mother, the birth of a daughter, dissolution of long-term relationships, international relocations. For Good Woman, the Staves transformed that pain into a driving and unabashed record. Still graced by the flawless familial three-part harmonies and melodies the band is known for, this album leaves behind the delicate yearning of their previous records to embrace their edges and maturity with a hardy sound. 

The band (re)introduce themselves in the album’s opening title track “Good Woman”. With tongue in cheek, the chorus’ repeated phrase, “I’m a good woman,” is a taunt and a promise. Here, the sisters leave behind archetypes of ideal womanhood to deliver listeners their own model – one which is complex, imperfect, and brutally honest. 

As opposed to the finger-picked style dominating The Staves’ last two records, Good Woman is built on driving quarter-note guitar strums and heavy percussion, and is filled out with creative and prominent horns. The bold “Careful, Kid” even opens with a distorted & warped drone that recalls heavy-metal. Pedal steel guitar weaves throughout several songs, the slides of which create and add a sense of warm wildness throughout the album. This record also contains more piano pieces, such as the upbeat “Best Friend”, and the bluesy chords carrying the album’s closing track, “Waiting on Me to Change”. 

For those acquainted with the band, this album features more of youngest-sister Camilla’s lead vocals than previous albums, which were dominated by middle-sister Jess’ soprano, further distinguishing this project from their last. 

The album’s singles, including “Devotion” and “Satisfied” are the emotional cores of the record, announcing the sister’s needs for self-definition and -prioritization, with lines like, “How sweet, life in the backseat / And it’s happening again / And it’s happening again / Devotion be the death of me”.

Another song previously released, “Nothing’s Gonna Happen”, was first shared as a demo in 2019, and the closest sonically to their previous albums. The song appears in Good Woman, reworked with the addition of horns to give it a fuller and darker quality.

A highlight of the album is the ukulele-based track “Paralyzed”. In a rousing bridge, the women sing: “Don’t snuff me out / I used to be magic, I used to be rage / Uncontained / I used to be something you made and admired / I used to be fire, I used to be magic”. This track seems to reference their 2015 song “Make it Holy,” in which they cooed “I could make you want me / Make you need me all the time / I could make it holy, make it fine”. The Staves may not feel like the magic and holiness they once did, but with this record, Jess, Emily and Camilla have replaced those gifts with a more certain and sturdy power – a power that sounds like self-knowledge, determination, and truth-telling.

Nell Sather

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