On the surface, the Staveley-Taylor sisters embody a kind of staid girlishness: their sound composed of celestial three-part harmonies and gently finger-picked folk; their long unstyled hair and sensible blouses evoking a wholesome, homely air. Yet the Watford trio’s lyrics thrum with frustration at patriarchal ideals of female passivity and patience.
Never has this juxtaposition between conventional femininity and the railing against it been more apparent – or engaging – than on their third album (plus one more with ensemble yMusic). “I cover my mouth and I straighten my back,” repeats the gorgeous title track, the line’s delivery half-droll, half-defeated. Devotion witnesses infatuation curdle into powerlessness amid dainty percussion and diaphanous melodies. On Paralysed, which shifts from lo-fi acoustic to full-bodied ballad, self-worth disintegrates in the confines of a doomed romance.
Beautiful songs are the Staves’s stock-in-trade, but here the loveliness doesn’t rest on its laurels. Instead, melodic sweetness is bolstered by a sense of urgency and stylistic cool. Careful, Kid’s sweet topline teeters over a syncopated beat and grunting bass. The cleverly constructed title track layers languid vocals over clipped, retro grooves, wobbly reverb and background muttering.
The trio have never been short of star collaborators: early in their career they provided backing vocals for Tom Jones, and their 2015 album If I Was was made with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. This time, the sisters enlisted producer-of-the-hour John Congleton, famous for his work with St Vincent, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. Whatever primness remains, Good Woman proves the Staves now slot effortlessly into that roster of intelligent, interesting artists, interrogating life, love and womanhood on their own distinctive terms.