4 out of 5
Produced by: Jessica Abbott (?); digital version remixed / remastered with Jenny Owen Youngs and Jett Galindo
I almost always say that context shouldn’t be required to enjoy media, and that’s still true here: Jessica Abbott’s acoustic take of her album, Nightstand, absolutely works in this stripped down format, with the core hooks and emotions of the tracks intact and relistenable. However, while I think maybe this allows for more focus on Jessica’s lyrics – which is good; the simple pop joy of her tunes and lack of complexity in themes can distract from how effective her lyrics can be at capturing feelings and illustrating moments – I probably would still say that the “plugged in” version of this is the better way to experience it, as the added punch of guitars and drums drills the stuff into your brain, guaranteeing revisits during which those lyrics and other nuances will eventually be heard…
But that doesn’t make Nightstand (acoustic) a collector’s lark; not at all. There’s the aforementioned forefronting of Abbott’s words, as well as an appreciated rawness – sincerity – in her singing, and then also that these aren’t just “here’s the guitar line and singing” versions, but rather structured in a way that serves the format, and with vocal layers and whatnot. In other words, it’s a legit album, that could’ve easily stood on its own, if not for the ready comparison to its rockin’ and rollin’ bigger sister. So maybe not getting me to hear these tunes in a shocking new way, or presenting takes I’d ultimately prefer, but surely worth a listen, and easy to keep playing once it’s on your playlist.
…So what’s this ‘context’ I’m talking about? Well, maybe you’re ahead of me on this, but to me, an acoustic album is made after the ‘proper’ album, or alongside it; this version, rather, are the prototypes of the songs that would make Nightstand – this is the stuff Jessica wrote that became the studio stuff. And there’s something about that that makes a world of difference to me, as well as not billing these as demos. Probably because there’s been more production / mixing / mastering put into this than one might a demo, but all the same, it’s representative of the type of legitimacy the tracks absolutely have, and when viewed in that chronology, gives me incredibly respect for how Abbott develops her tracks.
So the fourth star on here is probably more subjective than usual. Without context, this would be a three, but understanding the process really makes me appreciate what we’re hearing, and that we’re getting the opportunity to hear it as well.