Mama Who Bore Me
Which came first: the album or “the acoustic recordings”? Emily Wells, a multi-instrumentalist who has been releasing albums on her own and via indie labels since she was 17, has released an all-acoustic version of her 2012 album Mama. While the chronology of the releases is clear, The Mama Acoustic Recordings often sounds like demos. Are these early sketches or deconstructions of formed songs? This is part of the fun of listening to this re-work, though the most fun is still to be had listening to the original record.
Mama is made of ten pretty, sparse and occasionally haunting songs. The pulse never quite quickens, and Wells’ minimalism can be enchanting. The Acoustic Recordings uses only a delicately plucked acoustic guitar and Wells’ voice– a stripped-down version of already bare songs. A few songs benefit from the treatment: “Passenger” uses nothing more than a guitar strummed on the downbeat and echoey vocals to add depth to a song that is a lightweight on the original. “Darlin’,” a stronger track from Mama, is made more intimate with a whisper-in-your-ear vocal that cracks on the high notes.
Unfortunately, other songs are less than their originals. “No Good” and “Johnny Cash’s Mama’s House” are flat renditions. “Let Your Guard Down,” a highlight from Mama is still engaging, yet slowed to a point where it seems to lose any structure, with Wells barely forming the lyrics.
The standout track from Mama maintains its luster and is easily the highlight here. “Mama’s Gonna Give You Love,” a song of eerie devotion, shines in its simplicity.
Mama also has an album of remixes in addition to these acoustic tracks. Is it too much? Do we need acoustic versions and remixes of every song from a great album? Does it diminish the original work? Hearing creative interpretations can be exciting, bringing new feeling and perspective to something familiar, but sometimes… nothing beats the original.