Magnolia Electric Co.
What Comes After the Blues
A while back, I reviewed the first Magnolia Electric Co release (the live Trials and Errors) with some trepidation. While it was a great woolly document of where ex Songs:Ohian Jason Molina was going with his peculiar muse, it smacked of a rebound. Instead of the insular soul-trapped-in-a bottle folk blues we had come to expect from this man, we were faced with a full band, not backing musicians but a real band that worked together and intertwined and build some stirring post-Southern-Rock that was greater than the sum of its parts. But until the studio album appeared, I wasn't sure if this was really the new Jason (and he's one of those cult figures I reluctantly feel some ownership over. I know its unrealistic, but there it is. I think when society is uncertain in its motives and actions, I want my artists to be reliable in their trajectories) and with its appearance, so go my concerns.
What Comes After the Blues is a resounding studio debut for this mighty group. the melodies and arrangements are world's more complex than any of Molina's earlier personas, and the band rolls like The Band with its perfect drumming, twinkling piano, ghostly slide work, everything cogging together like a Swiss clock. The opener of Trial and Errors "The Dark Don't Hide It" is fleshed out to roasty tatsty goodness, with the slide work acting as wrinkles and gathers in the fabric of time used to stitch up this modern classic rock garment. Co-singer Jennie Benford (of alt-country cult favorites Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops).turns in a beautiful loping folk rock number of her own with "The Night Shift Lullaby" and provides harmony for most of the songs, where Jason's trademark nasal moan has never sounded more relaxed. The finest song on the platter is the trumpet-infused country rock classic "Leave the City" where it drifts by like a ring of smoke, cutting through people and things and walls to evaporate in the air.
The closest he comes to the skeletal music of his former persona is on "Hard to Love a Man" where a canticle formed of a simple cycling minor-key melody is draped with his trademark take on love and leaving:
It was hard to love a man like you
Good bye was half the words you know
While you was waitin for me not to call
I sent my love
"Give Something Away Every Day" serves as a bong haze slow wash that would not be out of place on Neil Young's Tonight's the Night and the rest of this short album (clocks in at an economical 34 minutes) closes out with three great acoustic driven numbers. "Northstar Blues" is a few chords from being "Freebird" musically and in sentiment, where he recounts an old Songs:Ohia song and the associations he has with it. You are left not knowing whether he's shoveling dirt into the grave of an old relationship, or his old pseudonym, but its doesn't matter. Loss is loss, dust to dust and it makes for a powerful and eventually uplifting lament. "Hammer Down" is the folkiest thing here, and utilizes his falsetto against a single guitar to great quavering effect. The final track "I Can Not Have Seen The Light" sees Jason and Jennie move up close to mic and deliver the most powerful vocal performance on the album with some truly powerful lyrics
Every now and then it happens again
I can't remember what comes first
Is it the hurt, or knowing that it hurts
So is this the future from one of my musical heroes? Who knows. One of the things I really dig about Jason Molina is that he is willing to frame his vision in whatever set up it needs to shine the best, whether it be the boombox under an overpass fidelity of "The Ghost" or the warm vinyl hum of this one, so even if this is a fleeting romance with a band or a long standing thing, I'm just happy he's still doing it. i do realize my slavish fanboy blathering may indeed be useless to the unconverted in describing this record, but with him and certain other artists, I am compelled to just spread the word rather than parse it. Go get this album, OK?
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com