How do we really change ourselves? Every couple of years we all are prompted to make big pronouncements of Making A Change, whether its be the perennially sourceless guilt factory of New Year's Eve or accidentally stepping onto a scale. The problem is that cheerleaders always work harder than the team, and then the players who consistently fumble the ball feel guilty for the spirit squad pom-pomming their little hearts out - I remember offering a cigarette to a friend that I thought on occasion smoked, it led into a never-ending soliloquy about his "Forever promise to himself" (his words) that I was leading him to break. Of course he finished off my pack by the end of the evening.
This kind of foot-stomping reserve is what haunted Songs:Ohia's Jason Molina as he shed his awkward project name for the jam-band sounding Magnolia Electric Co. Like I think the last Songs:Ohia album is actually entitled "Magnolia Electric Co", but he toured under the MEC as his band name. It didn't help things with the release of the solo album under his real name called Pyramid Electric Co which he claims to be called that only because of the first track bearing the same name. (A similar fate befell Will Oldham as he shed the Palace corporate identity with his brilliant Arise Therefore, like there were even stickers printed to cover the "Palace" on the first round of releases) Anyway...
Magnolia Electric Co, whoever the fuck it was by, had brilliant moments of juicy southern Indie Rock like the opener "Farewell Transmission" but it lacked the stethoscope intimacy that "his" previous albums all had. Thankfully, relentless touring as a band has rectified this situation as documented in the live album "Trials and Errors." A mix of live reworkings of the previous record and a few new songs show a new hearty beast helmed by our identity-challenged hero. These songs rage with a slow burning gunpowder trail quietly shaking up the dust when the chorus erupts. An improvement here in my book is that his songs are allowed to glow with out all the accompaniments kinda sounding the same throughout the record, a "flaw" on his previous outings. Nope, The Company has a Crazy Horse rockishness in them, without undermining the persistent seriousness of their own particular Neil (underscored with the liberal quotes form Harvest's "Out on the Weekend" on "Almost Was Good Enough".) Neil Young references are a dime a dozen these days, but Molina manages to capture the old man's mercurial spirit rather than simply aping the bad monitor setting that has become the de facto hallmark of "Sounding like Neil Young." Instead, he seems to treat the cantankerous uncle of indie rock as his Zarathustra, being a model for how to slough off an established persona in favor of a new one. His voice has never sounded better as well, its odd squeak being bolstered with a new stride in his step. I particularly like the trumpet augmented "Leave the City" with its pony-loping glory and the Love-grade hullabaloo evoked in "The Last 3 Human Words" and the cocky, moody strut of "The Pig Beast," also unabashedly Neil-ing it up with the big slurps from "Tonight's the Night"
But the whole thing is a killer record. One of many boot prints conferred by myself on my ass is that I missed them when they came through New Orleans last year and I missed it, but thankfully, this excellent record of their new meaty prowess has helped to soften the blow. There is a new album in the works from the group, so let's hope this firecracker is a harbinger of great fireworks ahead.
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