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Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.

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Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Dorian

It is a mystery to me why I came to the work of Jason Molina so late. His music is exactly the kind of thing I normally gravitate to and his prolific career meant that I was long aware of the names Songs Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company (without ever listening to them). In fact I first came to his music after hearing of his decline into ill health (both physical and mental) and picked up copies of two of his albums. Axxes and Ace, which proved to be the perfect introduction to Songs: Ohia, and Josephine a beautiful pure country collection that would become his last work as Magnolia Electric Company.

Jason Molina

His sad death earlier this year lead me to listen to more of his music and the back catalogue is a real goldmine of melancholy gems from a songwriter who never achieved the profile that he deserved. Perhaps the best realised and most accomplished of these albums (although I am far from familiar with them all) is Magnolia Electric Company, just reissued as a 10th anniversary special edition. The album is typically credited to the Songs Ohia moniker, but it is really a transitional album as Molina made a self conscious switch to operating more as a band, and less as a singer-songwriter backed by other musicians.

This is particularly notable on the epic opener ‘Farewell Transmission’ a full on band recording that mixes Molina’s trademark delivery with a Crazy Horse approach to playing. I was never lucky enough see Molina play live, in any of his guises, but people who have say that this song is the closest we have on record to the full band live sound.

The album is book-ended with another seven minute plus song, ‘Hold On Magnolia’, that is a much softer country song but no less epic and packs a real emotional punch. These represent just two songs from several on the album that deserve classic status and demand a place in every self-respecting record collection.

On two songs Molina relinquishes vocal duties. This is only moderately successful when Lawrence Peters  sings ‘The Old Black Hen’ but is inspired on ‘Peoria Lunch Box Blues’ with the voice of Scout Niblett.

Perhaps my favourite song is ‘Just Be Simple’, another tug of the heart-strings; the last minute and a half is a near-perfect combination of simplicity and emotional impact.

The record was engineered by Steve Albini and is among his most successful recordings. The balance of the instruments is great, the vocals wonderfully recorded and there is a real clarity to the sound of the album.

This anniversary edition adds two bonus tracks, and both of them add something to the collection. Better still is the second disc of demo recordings for almost all the songs on the album. This is the opportunity to hear the songs in their original raw form, much like the solo live performances of Jason Molina dotted around YouTube. This gives the songs a different dimension, stripped of anything but Molina’s guitar and voice, making this a must have collection.

9/10

By Dorian Rogers

To buy a brilliant tribute album featuring loads of Neon Filler’s favourite bands , raising money to pay for Jason Molina’s medical expense, go here.

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