Magnolia Electric Co.: Josephine

By: Dennis Cook

There's not many voices with more exposed nerve endings, more unpasteurized feeling than Jason Molina, a sound as lonely as the world's first ghost and as comforting as gospel music to folks in turmoil. Molina and his ever-searching, ever-honest tunes are the shifting, moving heart beating inside Magnolia Electric Co., who've very quietly become one of the finest roots rock units out there. With the steadiness of Aesop's tortoise, Molina and his shifting assortment of collaborators make music as ambitious and ingratiating as Wilco, as earthy and workaday right as Richmond Fontaine and possessed of a romanticism lacking from either of those celebrated peers. And Josephine (released July 29 on Secretly Canadian) may be their finest overall offering to date.

Balancing the more expressly experimental parts of Magnolia's work with the pleasantly rough plough hand side (a modern descendent of Hank Williams and Leadbelly), Josephine goes down neat 'n' hard like one's favorite glass of spirits, a welcome burn with consequences we welcome with a soft, knowing smile. Molina describes this tribute to bassist Evan Farrell, who passed suddenly in December 2007, as "an hourglass…filled with tears and twilight from a friend's dying day." As funereal as that may seem, Josephine proves their most nakedly tuneful, openly inviting long-player. The unifying vision, an attempt to process the band's grief at the loss of their comrade, has produced a newfound focus full of lean instincts and palpable immediacy. The whole enterprise simply hums with the ache of the living, which must deal with loss as the days pile up, memory stronger with each passing year.

"Hope dies last of all," proclaims Molina, and by God you believe him as the band harmonizes with the crisp snap of a small group gospel quartet from the 1930s just before descending into the cavernous guitar terrain of "The Handing Down." There's no lack of dramatic shifts or beauty dappled moments on Josephine, an album destined to provide succor and resilience to folks on the warm side of the world's cold, cold ground.

JamBase | Electrified
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[Published on: 8/27/09]

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