It is one of the greater ironies in music that songwriters – those believed to be possessed with a singular, savant-like talent for creating art – have almost unfailingly produced their best work amid a group of musicians. Since the early 1960s, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Lou Reed have all released some of their most important, revelatory work as part of a collective.
Jason Molina – a longtime member of indie rock’s songwriting elite – has for the past half-decade acted as a singular entity: as the sole proprietor of the Songs: Ohia tag, his sparse instrumentation has left little room for meaningful collaboration. Molina’s post-folk styling has often included only guitar and his arresting tenor. Nevertheless, a fully-amped live album and his most recent full-length, Didn’t It Rain, hinted at the potential in collaboration.
It should come as almost no surprise, then, that The Magnolia Electric Co. is such a breakthrough – it lists no fewer than nine collaborators and features fellow Windy City vet Steve Albini pushing the faders. Molina’s band cultivates a haunted house of country, classic rock and folk to lay a vibrant landscape for Molina’s expressive, steely delivery. The band is equally capable of crafting the country haze of “Just Be Simple”, the pounding, electric blues of “John Henry Split My Heart” and the theatrical Nashville of “The Old Black Hen.”
The album rolls to a stop amid a haze of lap steel and fiddle of “Hold on Magnolia.” Molina’s lyrics, which have always resonated with a gloomy majesty, finally peak: half-blues clich