Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Voice of A Ghost

Josephine - Magnolia Electric Co.

I have been a devoted fan of Jason Molina since I first spun the Songs:Ohia side two of a split EP with My Morning Jacket. I was drawn of course by the split billing with Jacket, assuming I was to discover another band of the same elk, which at the time was rare (unlike these days). What I found did not resonate with me immediately. There was a familiarity with their music and the voice, well the voice is undeniable. Cutting, foggy, sorrowful and real.

I soon purchased Songs:Ohia and then worshiped Farewell Transmission for about a month. The way that song unfolds itself it still downright awing to me. It's nothing flashy but it draws and draws until you are smothered and smoldering.

After the stint with Songs:Ohia, Molina soon regrouped and formed Magnolia Electric Co., a name he had previously toyed with, naming an Songs:Ohia album the same. The movements and arrangements changed subtly, but there is a distinct enough before - after that the artists music can be well defined by the changing of nomenclature.

Magnolia Electric Co. are in many ways a music snob or artists band. They aren't easy to wrap around and celebrate. Like Califone, most can offer a passing listen and think little of it, but those that linger discover so much below the surface and decide to stick around for a bit. Ben Bridwell, of Band of Horses, has been a major flag waver of the MEC fanbase, often seen at the shows and promoting Molina in interviews. Bridwell claims Molina has the best voice around, bold words coming from the man that sings The Funeral.

Magnolia Electric Co. made a big hit on my Essential List of 2007 with Sojourner, a double album that explored beyond the straight forwardness of What Comes After the Blues. It's an amazing collection, but bloated and muddy to get all the way through. My review wasn't the best, I simply ran through the album twice at work and noted the songs that stood out. I then arranged these songs into a playlist and credited that as what the album should have been. Don't tell Molina.

Sadly, this practice is one I still found myself wanting to take with Josephine. But before I say anything negative allow me to start with the praise. As soon as the horns are swept in on the opening track O! Grace, a new confidence with this band is announced. It's a direction they should have been exploring more over the years and it's more than welcome. O! Grace is great but then we get more standard Molina in between songs. Let me clarify this last statement as I know it reads as a bit of a contradiction after attempting to preach for this band the last few paragraphs. MEC writes great music, they just might write too much music and on the whole you'll find more songs without strong legs than those that stand tall. I firmly believe that Molina is a victim of the same burden that artists like Spencer Krug, Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst suffer, don't release so much damn music and focus more on that which you do!

Anyways, Josephine gets back on track fast with Whip-poor Will, the best of the album in my opinion. The lyrics here are the strongest both in terms of the emotion and imagery as well as how well they fit his voice and the stylings of the band. Josephine continues it's ups and downs until the end, and when it all finishes out I am glad to say I find more tall pines than scraggly shrubs.

Molina and Co. have a unique place in music and perhaps one of the lesser know and under appreciated voices around. What they need is a friend like Bridwell to nudge them along a stronger path. Getting bigger and bolder is not always bad in this genre as we will soon see with the latest Avett release, which just might be the best I've heard all year.


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