Laughter

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Review: Songs: Ohia, “Didn’t It Rain (Deluxe Edition)” (Secretly Canadian)

Didn’t It Rain is the sixth and final Songs: Ohia studio album, the enigmatic zenith of a seven-year run that saw Jason Molina record with no fewer than seven different bands. But Molina never stuck with one group for very long, on the road or in the studio, and he wouldn’t until after 2004’s Magnolia Electric Co. was completed. So it’s no surprise that, for Didn’t It Rain, he traveled to Soundgun Studio in Philadelphia to play with eight musicians he barely knew. That was how he had always worked.

The only two people at Soundgun who had recorded with Jason before were producer Edan Cohen, who, in 2001, manned the boards for Jason’s cover of Boz Scaggs’s “Sweet Release” and Jennie Benford, who that same year sang backup on the Cohen-produced 7” version of “Lioness.”  Everyone else came to the game a rookie. Surrounded by posters of blues musicians from Chicago that Molina had brought with him, they were all asked to play in the same room together and to invent their parts as they went along. Mistakes would be made and overdubs were not an option, so the idea was to keep playing and to capture the performance raw. It’s a strategy Molina had used for past records, but it had never yielded anything as cogent and heavy as Didn’t It Rain.

(Read More… at Dusted in Exile)

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Forthcoming Jason Molina Book: Riding with the Ghost

The 2CD deluxe edition of Song: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain was released yesterday, and to celebrate SPIN Magazine published an excerpt from a forthcoming book about Jason Molina written by Erin Osmon. You can read that here.

And below is a performance of “Blue Factory Flame” from Didn’t It Rain, recorded in Bloomington, IN two years before that album was released. There’s a demo version of it on the deluxe release, but the version here is substantially different. It’s one of the most intense solo recordings of his that I’ve heard.


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“Didn’t It Rain” Deluxe Edition + Live in Malmö, Sweden

News that Secretly Canadian will be releasing a deluxe edition of Didn’t It Rain got me hunting for good MECo./Songs: Ohia bootlegs on Youtube this past week. The below show, recorded in Malmö, Sweden on August 30th, 2009, is one of the better I’ve seen.

Check out the version of “Ring the Bell” Secretly Canadian posted to Youtube while you’re at it. Like Magnolia Electric Co., the Didn’t It Rain deluxe edition will include solo demo versions of songs from the album, plus early versions of a couple of songs that ended up on separate releases. Release date is set for November 11th.


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Broadcast 10: Jason Molina

songs_ohia_journey_on_boxed_setJason Molina passed away on March 16th, 2013, one year ago yesterday. Last year, when Brainwashed.com gave him the Lifetime Achievement Award for his body of work, I wrote a summary of his career. I’d like to share a little of that here, just to give you some perspective on the man’s devotion to his craft. He wrote some of my favorite songs, recorded several of my favorite records, and was one of my favorite musicians, period. I respected his work and how he worked, and not many people worked as hard as he did:

By the time Magnolia Electric Co. came out in 2003, [Jason Molina] had recorded nine albums in roughly seven years, plus numerous singles and EPs—at least 15 in total between 1995 and 2002—that were scattered across various labels, from Palace Records and Secretly Canadian to Acuarela, Western Vinyl, and Temporary Residence. He then went on to record one EP, two 7″ singles, and seven more albums with Magnolia before he died, three of which were bundled together in the Sojourner boxed set and recorded in the same year. Somehow, within that same time span, he found the energy to write, record, and release four more albums, three under his own name and one collaboration with Will Johnson. He collaborated and released records with so many people it’s hard to keep count: The Arab Strap, Will Oldham, Alasdair Roberts, Scout Niblett, Oneida, My Morning Jacket, Mike Mogis, Steve Albini, Jennie Benford, Richard Youngs, Edith Frost, David Lowery—the list goes on. And what’s more, they’re all worth hearing, even the rougher stuff. Some musicians need quality control and restraint: Jason Molina simply couldn’t release enough…

In celebration of his life, I DJ’d a two hour set of his music (22 songs) on WZBC 90.3 FM.

It all came together last minute, so I didn’t have the chance to promote it here. But if you missed the show and would like to hear it, you still can. WZBC archives every one of its broadcasts for two weeks at a time and you can find the links for this one at the bottom of the page, along with a setlist. If you’re unfamiliar with his music, this show should serve as a good introduction to it. If you already know Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., but have only heard a record or two, there should be plenty here that’s new. And if you’re a fan, I hope you’ll listen and enjoy the songs. I picked several of them and listeners requested a few others. I think it all came together very well.

In other Molina news, Secretly Canadian will be releasing a Songs: Ohia boxed set for Record Store Day this year. The image at the top of this page was posted to the label’s Facebook page on March 12th, and the Jason Molina page reposted it, promising more information soon. There’s still a bit of speculation as to the contents, but Bull Moose has already posted a product description on their website, which you can see here. It mentions “18 sides,” which means there are probably nine singles, though which nine is still up in the air, as is whether or not they’ll be exact reproductions.

If you have any comments or questions, please email me, or leave a message in the comment section below.

I hope you enjoy the show.

Laughter: March 16th, 2014 – A Tribute to Jason Molina: Hour 1 and Hour 2

  1. Magnolia Electric Co., “O! Grace” from Josephine (2009) on Secretly Canadian
  2. Magnolia Electric Co., “The Night Shift Lullaby” from What Comes After the Blues (2005) on Secretly Canadian
  3. Magnolia Electric Co., “John Henry Split My Heart” from Magnolia Electric Co. (2003) on Secretly Canadian
  4. Songs: Ohia, “This Time Anything Finite at All” from Impala (1998) on Secretly Canadian
  5. Songs: Ohia, “Hearts Newly Arrived (Hecla Session)” from Hecla & Griper (15th Anniversary Edition) (2013) on Secretly Canadian
  6. Songs: Ohia, “Hot Black Silk” from Axxess & Ace (1999) on Secretly Canadian
  7. Songs: Ohia, “Being In Love” from The Lioness (2000) on Secretly Canadian
  8. Songs: Ohia, “Two Blue Lights” from Didn’t It Rain (2002) on Secretly Canadian
  9. Magnolia Electric Co., “Will-o-the-Wisp” from Black Ram (Sojourner Boxed Set) (2007) on Secretly Canadian
  10. Jason Molina, “The Spell” from Shohola (Sojourner Boxed Set) (2007) on Secretly Canadian
  11. Songs: Ohia, “East Last Heart” from Hecla & Griper (1997) on Secretly Canadian
  12. Jason Molina, “It Costs You Nothing” from Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go (2006) on Secretly Canadian
  13. Magnolia Electric Co., “Talk To Me Devil, Again” from Sun Session (Sojourner Boxed Set) (2007) on Secretly Canadian
  14. Magnolia Electric Co., “The Old Black Hen” from Magnolia Electric Co. (2003) on Secretly Canadian
  15. Magnolia Electric Co., “Texas ’71” from Nashville Moon (Sojourner Boxed Set) (2007) on Secretly Canadian
  16. Magnolia Electric Co., “The Handing Down” from Josephine (2009) on Secretly Canadian
  17. Magnolia Electric Co., “Map Of The Falling Sky” from Josephine (2009) on Secretly Canadian
  18. Magnolia Electric Co., “A Little At A Time” from Fading Trails (2006) on Secretly Canadian
  19. Songs: Ohia, “No Limits On The Words” from Ghost Tropic (2000) on Secretly Canadian
  20. Magnolia Electric Co., “The Big Game Is Every Night” from Magnolia Electric Co. (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) (2013) on Secretly Canadian
  21. Songs: Ohia, “Blue Chicago Moon” from Didn’t It Rain (2002) on Secretly Canadian
  22. Songs: Ohia, “Blue Factory Flame” from Didn’t It Rain (2002) on Secretly Canadian

 


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Review: Songs: Ohia, “Magnolia Electric Co. (10th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)”

Two forces define Jason Molina’s entire career: work—he was almost obsessively dedicated to his craft—and his band. In 2003 he brought these forces to Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio in Chicago and, with nine other musicians, caught lightning in a bottle. Up to that point Molina had made a case for his being a great songwriter, but on Magnolia Electric Co. he became a great bandleader. Those nine other musicians share the spotlight with him on these eight songs, and rightfully so. They’re an integral reason Magnolia ended up one of the best rock ‘n’ roll records ever recorded.

From his debut 7″ in 1996 until 2003 Jason Molina’s band changed with virtually every new release. He played and recorded with Arab Strap, Richard Youngs, Geof Comings, Jonathan Cargill, Mike Mogis, Edith Frost, Dave Fischoff, Alasdair Roberts, and many others; too numerous to count here.

These are the people, as much as Molina, who made Songs: Ohia what it was. Jason knew this and admitted it in various interviews. With Magnolia Electric Co. he acknowledged it, and practically handed the album over this friends and fellow musicians.

The big themes come first: transformation, doubt, partnership, work, and fate—Jason’s magical lyricism rides on top of these concerns. He communes with spectral guides and ghostly conspirators; presents deserts, flowers, and ghost towns as trail cairns for lovesick wanderers; and draws Comiskey Park together with the ancient light of distant stars. He writes about broad spaces, thoughts, and inner experiences, and then brings them to life with these details. Until, in the album’s penultimate moment, as “John Henry Split My Heart” nearly flies off the rails, Molina reels the band’s energy in for just a few lines. In the equivalent of a rock ‘n’ roll soliloquy, he sings, “Boy what you gonna do with your heart in two?” He replies, “Only if it’s good enough, half I’m gonna use to pay this band. Half I’m saving, ’cause I’m gonna owe ’em.”

Jason Molina was undoubtedly a great songwriter. As his solo albums, numerous solo bootlegs, and the newly reissued Magnolia demos show, he could carry a song all on his own, sometimes just on the strength of his voice. For the 2003 recording session, he had worked out all the lyrics in advance, knew the basic chords and shapes the songs would take, and maybe even knew how everything would fit together. A few of those songs had been tested on the road the year before too, with a band in tow. But incredibly several of the album’s most memorable melodies aren’t there in the demos, or even in the pre-album live versions.

Jim Grabowski’s floating Wurlitzer accompaniment on “Just Be Simple,” Dan Macadam’s dancing violin on “The Old Black Hen,” Dan Sullivan’s angular guitar playing, even Mike Brenner’s lap steel lead on “Farewell Transmission”—they were all almost unbelievably invented by the musicians, in the studio, on the spot, without the benefit of knowing the songs well in advance, using overdubs to fix mistakes, or having rehearsal time. Jason wasn’t kidding about owing them.

That spontaneity gives the music its loose, anything-could-happen feel; the sort of rambling, improvisational quality that causes listeners to draw connections to country and gospel music when they hear the album. Molina’s ideas, what he brought to the table as a writer, pull the record in the opposite direction. He’s the one that makes the music sound tightly wound; it’s his ability as a leader that makes it all sound inevitable.

And that says nothing of the incredible rhythm section Jason had in Jeff Panall and Rob Sullivan, or of Jennie Benford’s haunting harmonies, or of spectacular start on side B, where he gives up the mic to Lawrence Peters and Scout Niblett on “The Old Black Hen” and “Peoria Lunch Box Blues.” Jason disappears into both of those songs, making it hard to say where he even is in the mix. They’re his songs sure enough, but it’s the team that’s making them sing. Other bands have worked in a similar way, but few have left so much to the fates and come out the other end with an album that sounds as confident and energetic as Magnolia Electric Co.

To the inclusion of the reissued demos, this 10th anniversary edition adds two studio recordings; one brand new, one difficult to find until now. Acoustic versions for both songs were featured on the demo disc in the album’s limited first edition, but the big draw for anyone who has those already are these studio additions. “The Big Game Is Every Night” was previously available on the Japanese edition of the album, but thank God it’s finally available domestically because it’s stunning, and almost perfectly embodies the entire album. Above a dark, swirling mass of droning strings, Molina delivers urgent line after urgent line of historical images, references, and self-accusations that only he could have imagined. Cutting it from the record must have been painful, but it’s such a massive black hole of a tune that it would have swallowed all the light around it. It makes perfect sense on it’s own, after the album has ended, or on the 10″ that comes with the vinyl version.

“Whip-Poor-Will,” on the other hand, falls a bit flat. The demo version is great, and the studio treatment it received on Josephine is heart-rending, but the Magnolia version simply sounds incomplete, as if Jason and Jennie Benford had a good idea, but couldn’t find a way to make it work with the time they had.

Hearing it reinforces just how perfect everything else is. Unbelievable is a good word for it, and maybe lucky too. But good bands make their own luck, and this band was as good as they come. As good as the ones Dylan had in ’64 and ’65, as rough and powerful as Crazy Horse, at times as heavy and as energetic as Hendrix, Redding, and Mitchell. Together, these ten musicians could go toe to toe with anyone, and that’s not hyperbole. Make no doubt about it, it’s a fact; true like the solid earth. All you have to do to know it is listen.

Magnolia Electric Co. is available on Secretly Canadian
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com


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The Monthly List: October’s Top 13

the_shining_tommyA much delayed October listing, and an abbreviated one, which will probably be the norm from now on. I’m focusing more on writing reviews, with three finished and waiting to be published, three more in the works, and hopefully some interviews too.

Links to my favorite sites for reviews and information are found at the bottom of the page. You can always find good info at Brainwashed.com, Just Outside, and All Music Guide, and samples are available virtually everywhere. Forced Exposure and Boomkat places are good places to go looking for the more obscure stuff.

From now on I’ll only link to the labels here, and put more effort into making shorter posts about my favorite records throughout the month.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.

  • FKA Twigs, EP2 on YOUNG TURKS (LP)
  • Antoine Beuger/Michael Pisaro, This Place/Is Love on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Annette Krebs/Taku Unami, Motubachii on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Graham Lambkin/Jason Lescalleet, The Breadwinner on ERSTWHILE (CD)
  • Various Artists, Weary Engine Blues: A Tribute to Jason Molina on GRAVEFACE (2CD)
  • Joe McPhee, Nation Time on ATAVISTIC (CD)
  • Evan Parker & Joe McPhee, What/If/They Both Could Fly on RUNE GRAMMOFON (CD)
  • Albert Ayler, Nuits de la Fondation Maeght 1970 on WATER (CD)
  • The Stranger, Watching Dead Empires in Decay on MODERN LOVE (CD)
  • Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang, The Face of the Earth  on IDEOLOGIC ORGAN (LP)
  • Moniek Darge, Sounds of Sacred Places on KYE (CD)
  • Graham Lambkin, Abersayne/Attersaye on KYE (7″)
  • Kevin Drumm, Humid Weather on SELF-RELEASED (CD)


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Song of the Night: “Almost Was Good Enough” Live

songsohia_black_lrgWith the 10th anniversary edition of Magnolia Electric Co. due out soon, I thought I’d share one of my favorite performances of one of my favorite songs on the album. The below version of “Almost Was Good Enough” was recorded on 15 October 2003, at Planta Baja in Granada Spain. It’s about six minutes longer than the original, opens up with an extended guitar solo, and has a trumpet solo in the middle that I absolutely love. The band sounds incredible and the recording quality is good and balanced.

Anyone with info about who was in the band for this tour, please leave a comment. I’m willing to bet that’s Mike Brenner on the slide guitar, and I think maybe Jason Groth is playing lead guitar, but I can’t remember if he was in the band by 2003 or not.

I took the recording from a bootleg uploaded to the Magnolia Archive.org collection, which has the blessings of both the band and Secretly Canadian.

You can download the entire set here.


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Recommended: Magnolia Electric Co. 10th Anniversary Reissue

magnolia_electric_box_largeExciting news came from Secretly Canadian last week: a 10th anniversary edition of the Magnolia Electric Co. album is due for release on November 12th.

That label is offering the reissue in three different formats: double CD, double LP with a 10″ bonus, and then a combination of those two, which also comes with a t-shirt. All three versions include the original album, acoustic demos that were only available in the first 1,000 copies of the original CD release, plus two new studio recordings: “The Big Game is Every Night,” previously available on the Japanese release of the album only, and a never-before-heard version of “Whip Poor Will,” which ended up on Josephine in a different form.

Pre-orders are being taken by Secretly Canadian now. To sweeten the deal, they’re adding a download code redeemable as soon as you place the order.

I’ve said it before, I think this is one of the best rock ‘n’ roll albums released in the last 10 or 15 years, and it’s one of my favorite albums period. Having all the extras in one place is just icing on the cake. I can’t recommend it enough.

 


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Jason Molina’s Spineriders Get Reissued

Spineriders-Jason_and_Shannon

Unexpected news from Magnolia Electric land: Jason Molina’s highschool punk/metal band, for which he played the bass, will get a cassette reissue of their one and only 1991 album, Hello Future Tinglies. Misra Records is handling the production along with founding member Todd Jacops. All proceeds go directly to the Musicians Emergency Medical Association.

Misra has posted a great page dedicated to the project, with tons of information about the release, including press clippings, photographs, posters, and even a battle of the bands score card. They’re only making 300 copies, each with a download card. Forty Molina screen-printed posters have been drawn up for the occasion as well. If you want to skip straight to the part where you buy a copy, follow this link.

But I recommend visiting that Misra page. Reilly Lambert, a friend of the band, has written an awesome bio that explains how the group got studio time to record their demo and how Jason and Todd eventually went on to record Songs: Ohia material. There’s also a few more amazing photos like the one above. You can read it while listening to the album below:


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Review: Songs: Ohia, “Hecla & Griper (15th Anniversary Edition)”

In 1997, as the last of the tenth generation Thunderbirds rolled off the Ford assembly line in Lorain, Ohio, Jason Molina released his debut album and first EP for Secretly Canadian. The Lorain native had two 7″ singles to his name when his self-titled debut arrived in April. Hecla & Griper snuck in before Christmas that year, loaded with terse songs, a bigger bottom end, and a tougher sound for the winter. Secretly Canadian’s 15th Anniversary Edition tacks on four new-ish songs, two of them exciting, previously unreleased Hecla versions of “Heart Newly Arrived” and “One of Those Uncertain Hands,” which both first showed up on 1998’s Impala.

There’s nothing in Songs: Ohia’s first recordings that point to where Molina would end up on albums like Ghost Tropic or Didn’t It Rain. Early on, he had somewhere to be and he wanted to get there fast. No nine minute serenades with bluesy flourishes, no long instrumental passages with droning organs and bird calls —just a small band, some peculiar verses, and maybe a chorus or two where the lines bear repeating. “Pass,” Hecla’s opening song, lasts just one minute. Jason sings for about half that time. It’s more like a punk song than anything in the Americana/Palace-worship catalog, and it’s catchy as hell. “East Last Heart,” the longest song on the EP at four minutes, ends precisely when it needs to, and with very little ornamentation: some dramatic piano chords to complement the bottom-heavy crawl of the tenor guitar and bass, and Jason singing “rich kid I’m talking to you.” That’s it. Cut, next song.

Even the slow tunes are fleet of foot. “Reply & Claim,” a re-purposed version of “Citadel (Tenskwatawa),” is just a hair longer than the original, but passes with more momentum thanks to the extra instrumentation. The instrumentation is only bass and drums, but it sounds more like a rock song now and Jason’s delivery is a touch more urgent too, to keep the energy in proportion with the duration. Plus there aren’t any saxophones or clarinets brightening things up, so there’s no airy relief from Molina’s frequently dark lyricism and insistent delivery. The closest Hecla & Griper gets to relief is a cover of Conway Twitty’s “Hello Darlin’,” which is almost funny, but still badass. Jason talks through some of the lyrics, sounding proud and resigned simultaneously, and half-amused that he’s recording a Conway Twitty song.

The bonus songs are an odd bunch. “Pilot & Friend” is a slightly different version of “The Arrogant Truth” from the Our Golden Ratio EP (1998), and “Debts” is actually “To the Neighbors of Our Age,” which first saw the light of day on Songs for the Geographically Challenged Volume 2, released by Temporary Residence in 1997. “Debts” points the way to Impala with its quiet organ melody, but still fits the Hecla bill just fine. I assume “Pilot & Friend” was recorded around the same time, but without liner notes all I can do is assume. It isn’t out of place, but why put a song from another EP on here?

But I’m being grumpy about a great song from an EP I don’t have anyway. For fans already acquainted with everything Jason did, the new versions of “Heart Newly Arrived” and “One of Those Uncertain Hands” are worth getting excited about. They feature the Hecla & Griper instrumentation and are more cleanly recorded, without echo or reverb. Instead of being moody and atmospheric, they’re lean and propulsive—mean sounding songs with a touch of heavy metal in them. The Thunderbird may have left Lorain in ’97, but Molina was still representing, dishing out some thunder of his own.

Hecla & Griper 15th Anniversary Edition is available on Secretly Canadian
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com

note: I failed to mention in my review that this is the first time Hecla & Griper has been available on vinyl. It was originally issued on compact disc.


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Band of Horses Cover Songs: Ohia + Hecla & Griper Reissued

Band of Horses appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last night and covered “I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost” clad in Magnolia Electric Co. t-shirts. I don’t follow Band of Horses, but this isn’t a bad cover. The ladies singing harmony sound fantastic and it’s good to see other musicians paying tribute to Jason’s work.

In other Songs: Ohia news, Secretly Canadian is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Hecla & Griper EP with a vinyl reissue that features four bonus songs. This is the first time the EP has appeared on vinyl.

The Secretly Canadian press release claims that all four of the bonus songs are new, but one user on the Magnolia Electric Co. board has suggested that two of them are from the Acuerala EP and the Sounds of the Geographically Challenged comp.

From the Secretly Canadian store:

Secretly Canadian is proud to announce the 15th Anniversary reissue of a Songs: Ohia classic, the Hecla & Griper EP, now appearing for the first time on vinyl with previously unreleased bonus material. After spending the summer of 1997 on the road, Jason Molina and Co. headed into Bloomington, Ind. studio The Grotto with producer Dan Burton and layed down these eight songs. Odes to the love of loss and reggae friends. If you have ever found the other pillow empty in the morning, this is what you need to dry your tears. It also features a Conway Twitty cover. This vinyl reissue contains two previously unreleased Songs: Ohia tracks (“Debts” and “Pilot & Friend”) and alternative versions of two songs that would later appear on Songs: Ohia’s Impala: “Hearts Newly Arrived (Hecla Session)” and “One of Those Uncertain Hands (Hecla Session).”

You can listen to “Darling…,” the Conway Twitty cover they mention, here:


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Review: Magnolia Electric Co., “Black Ram”

In 2005, when Camper Van Beethoven’s gear was stolen on tour, Jason Molina ran into David Lowery and offered to lend him some of Magnolia Electric Co.’s equipment. They became friends and, later that year, met in Richmond, Virginia to record some new songs Jason had in the works. Before he could finish, Molina’s mother suffered a stroke. He completed what he could and returned in 2006 to finish Black Ram, one of the four recordings that finally surfaced as part of 2007’s Sojourner boxed set. Backed by musicians not in the touring Magnolia lineup, it’s one of the darkest and most distinct albums Molina ever released—closer to his Songs: Ohia days in spirit and tone, and overflowing with some of his best writing.

Secretly Canadian and Magnolia Electric Co. had a difficult choice to make in 2006. I’m still not sure they made the right one. Jason Molina and company had recorded three albums and two EPs worth of new music in about the span of a year. Faced with so much music, Secretly Canadian inexplicably froze up. Much of what was recorded would appear on the Sojourner box a year later, but at the time they felt they couldn’t release everything at once. Instead, they put out a Jason Molina solo record, assembled Fading Trails from songs found on each of the four Sojourner CDs, and quickly followed everything up with a tour.

I still like Fading Trails, but after hearing Black Ram for the first time, I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t released instead. Had it not been tucked away in an intimidating box set of all new recordings, it might have received the attention it deserves, being one of Molina’s best albums. Maybe Jason wanted to focus on the touring Magnolia band instead, or maybe Secretly Canadian planned on releasing Black Ram later. Either way, it half disappeared into the monolith of Sojourner and the fruits of Molina’s tireless work ethic. Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go kept me occupied for a long time, and before I could absorb everything on SojournerJosephine was on the way with the Molina and Johnson record not far behind.

A couple interviews in 2006 hinted at how special Black Ram was to Jason. In a Q&A on the official Magnolia site, he listed it among his best albums, calling it a concept record about a ghost. In a Chicago Reader interview from that same year he referred to it as “high-impact” and strongly emotional. There’s no doubt it’s a haunted record. That clue about the ghost concept won’t solve any of Jason’s many lyrical puzzles, but it does clarify his mindset. Lyrically, Black Ram is populated with images of death, dark riders, and an ancient landscape populated by mysterious and dangerous spirits.

It opens with “In the Human World,” invoking the “mountains of the dead” and a despair that is better heard than described. It follows with “Black Ram,” a song built up from apocalyptic dream images and magic rituals, and from glimpses of ghostly worlds that reside just at the edge of perception. There’s a lot of remembering and yearning, and ruthless self examination that admits guilt and holds on to hope and forgiveness with the same trembling breath—just listen to “What’s Broken Becomes Better” or “Kanawha”; Jason fits it all into tightly written, tersely performed four minute songs that hit as hard as anything on Didn’t It Rain or Magnolia Electric Co.

The subject matter gets so heavy and personal that the album sounds like a journey through the underworld in places, especially on the title track and “Will-o-the-Wisp,” two of its most intense songs. Two of Jason’s best from Fading Trails—”A Little at a Time” and “The Old Horizon”—are here too, sounding better and more natural alongside their proper brethren, which were all recorded with Miguel Urbiztondo behind the drums and on Harmonium, with David Lowery on bass, and with Alan Weatherhead responsible for guitar, pedal steel, Mellotron, and engineering duties. Filmmaker Rick Alverson, Andrew Bird, and the mysterious Molly Blackbird also lend a hand.

Musically, the band follows Jason’s lyrical lead. The instrumentation shifts from thick and soupy to sparse and skeletal depending on the song, but is always held together by the rhythm section. David Lowery’s bass swells and shakes on every song, providing shades of black and purple color for the guitars to shine against. Miguel Urbiztondo’s drumming pushes the music forward on one or two songs, but otherwise unfolds patiently, not keeping time so much as marking its passing. Even on the more rock oriented material, he keeps things smoky and indistinct, preferring tension and texture to a driving beat. The Mellotron and Harmonium help in that department too. I notice them most when they’re used to create a surface on which the melodies can skate. There is something almost creepy about the sounds the Mellotron makes, as if it were playing back samples from EVP sessions, or broadcasting noise from outer space.

Despite the slow pace and the dark themes, Black Ram uses contrast extremely well, making the darks darker and the light colors that much brighter. Melodically, the album is carried by Jason’s voice and just a few lead instruments. When guitars do take the lead, they do so in a big way. “What’s Broken Becomes Better” has an eviscerating electric solo that cuts so hard it turns the song around, giving it a hopeful finale. “A Little At a Time” also puts a guitar solo front and center, using it to add color and deliver the song’s dramatic climax. But, most of all, I hear and feel the weight of the rhythm section, murky and hot, and the pull of Jason’s singing. When he intones “goodbye, my love / goodbye” on “Will-o-the-Wisp” I can almost see the scene he’s painting; and when “The Old Horizon” finally hits, it chills to the bone—the feeling of isolation and being lost comes on strong, and Jason’s use of piano and bowed percussion only amplify that loneliness.

With such strong musical performances, great songs, and such potent lyrical references, Black Ram accumulates a very believable and almost magical atmosphere. Deciphering all the allusions and personal references is probably impossible, but unnecessary anyway. Each time it ends, I leave the album thinking that all the places and spirits Jason mentions are real, that they’re not just fanciful representations of personal thoughts, and that I might be able to hear them too if I listen hard enough.

So when the album starts and Jason asks “mountains of the dead are you listening?” I wonder if he is talking to me.

The Sojourner boxed set is available from Secretly Canadian
Sound samples available at Brainwashed.com


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The Monthly List: March’s Top 10 (or 11)

from Burritt's Geography of the Heavens, 1856

from Burritt’s Geography of the Heavens, 1856

Back after a short vacation. In the wake of Jason Molina’s death, I listened to almost nothing but Magnolia Electric Co., Songs: Ohia, and Jason Molina solo records. It’d been forever since I listened to much singer/songwriter stuff, so April turned into something of a binge.

I hosted the Brainwashed Podcast dedicated to Jason Molina last month, and on March 26th I hosted a two hour Molina tribute show on WZBC. I recorded almost the entire show and may post it soon, at least for a little while. If you happened to tune in but haven’t checked out Archive.org yet, you should. I pulled all the live performances from bootlegs freely—and legally—available on that site.

As always, formats posted are the ones I own. Others may be available. If you like any of the samples I link to, please buy the album. You can find numerous retailers carrying these titles at the bottom of this page.


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Graveface to Release Molina Tribute Album + WZBC Show and More

weary_engine_bluesSavannah’s Graveface Records is preparing a Jason Molina tribute album due out toward the end of April. Called Weary Engine Blues, confirmed contributors to the project include John Vanderslice, Mark Kozelek, Damien Jurado, Alasdair Roberts, Scout Niblett, Will Johnson, Will Oldham, and many more. The cover art is by Jason Molina.

Not sure how limited this will be, but at the moment anyone who buys a CD copy of the album will also receive a 12.5″ x 12.5″ print of this map, originally drawn for Jason Molina by William Schaff, who has made some amazing album covers for Magnolia Electric Co., Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Okkervil River. He’s also responsible for the book in which Autumn Bird Songs appeared. All profits will go to Molina’s family. You may want to hurry and get a copy, but if the CD sells out, you can still get the MP3s for cheap.

Kozelek’s contribution—a cover of “It’s Easier Now” from Let Me Go, Let Me Go, Let Me Go—is already online at Soundcloud:

On Sunday I visited Brainwashed HQ and recorded an hour-long podcast dedicated to Molina. It features some of my favorite songs from him, including an amazing live performance of “Hard to Love a Man” from 2006. You can listen to it here.

Tomorrow, from 9 PM until 11 PM eastern, I’ll be DJing another tribute show on WZBC 90.3 FM in Boston. Anyone nearby can tune in, and anyone far away can stream the broadcast by pressing the big red play button on the left side of that page. I plan on playing album favorites, a few particularly great live performances, and a good deal of the lesser known stuff from Songs: Ohia. I hope you’ll join me—requests will be welcome.

Last but not least, Jagjaguwar’s posted another excellent tribute to Jason. It includes a photograph that I think must have been taken in 2002, on the courthouse steps in Harrisonburg, Virginia, during the MacRock festival. As one user on Archive.org remembers:

FYI, that previous night’s show was at macrock, in Virginia. The fire marshal ended up kicking people out of the venue due to overcrowding…

…so Jason played the rest of his set on the courthouse steps across the street. ‘Ring the Bell’ was never a more perfect song than that one moment. Especially with Jason smirking while singing ‘they’re always close…’ just as the police were pulling up.


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Tributes to Jason Molina, and Some Friendly Advice

molina_in_lights_large

photographer unknown – if you know when, where, and by whom it was taken, please leave a comment

Tributes and stories about Jason Molina are being shared by musicians and fans on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and on the Magnolia Electric Co. website, where Molina’s entire discography can be streamed for a limited amount of time. The following are just some of the tributes that I think are worth sharing.

Will Johnson’s memories of the Molina and Johnson sessions and his thoughts about the circumstances around Jason’s death sum up something I wanted to say and was feeling but couldn’t find the words for. I quote the end here, but it’s worth reading in its entirety:

In that last letter [from Jason] he suggested that I make a Homerun Baker baseball painting. He explained to me that his father used to deliver newspapers to the Hall of Famer, and it was said that later in his life Baker paid for everything with Indian Head pennies. I made that painting last month with Jason in mind, but never told him I’d made it. I meant to. Every time I looked at it over in the corner I thought of him, reminded that I needed to write soon. I don’t think reaching out would have changed history. I don’t think the story would have changed. It’s a matter of being left with the feeling of wishing I’d done something I just didn’t do.

Connect when the feeling strikes. Work on loving. Work to avoid regret. Because a lot of the time it’s hard to tell what the last time looks like.

Dan Gilles—a high school classmate and friend at Admiral King High School in Lorain, Ohio—wrote a beautiful eulogy for Jason, recalling his band The Spineriders and their mutual love for heavy metal. Hey says, “Jason was a genius in many ways and he used his genius to make great music and live an interesting life. For that alone, he will be missed, but he was also a genuinely friendly soul.” I hate the word genius because it’s tossed around so carelessly, but Mr. Gilles is right. Jason was a genius, and deserves to be recognized as one. By my estimate, he was one of this country’s greatest songwriters. And there’s no doubt in my mind he had one of the most powerful and striking voices of any singer I can name.

Friends, fans, and colleagues at the Electrical Audio bulletin board, including Steve Albini, have also been sharing their thoughts and memories. Some have started a Songs: Molina project to help raise funds for Jason’s family, who still have medical bills to contend with. Early interview footage and a pair of documentary videos are linked in that thread, including the Josephine documentary that originally appeared on Pitchfork. It’s a fantastic look at the way Jason worked in the studio and it provides a glimpse or two of songs that never made it onto the album, including a studio version of “Astrabel.”

One particular fan tribute that caught my eye comes from Katie Green, who drew this wonderful comic in place of writing words. Anyone who wants to say something or to help, but can’t find the words or another way to do it, should contribute to Jason’s medical fund via PayPal. The link to do so and information can be found here, at the bottom of the page. Even if you have written or recorded or drawn something, I’d still like to urge that you contribute. I wish I would have done it before he died, but his family still needs help, and that’s the best way to make sure that they get it.

Last, but not least, I’d like to re-post a letter Matthew Barnhart of Tre Orsi posted on his Tumblr. After mentioning to Molina that he was having trouble finishing some songs, Jason wrote the below message in reply, apparently at 6 AM, and on a phone since his computer was busted. It’s a great and inspiring read, and I think anyone interested in making any kind of art will find it helpful.

I’ll be looking for an old dictionary the first chance I get.

On Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 6:04 AM, jason molina  wrote:

Thnx for nice words. Frgive shortening of words. No computer due to crash.  Thank god my demos are on cassette.   You too are a wonderful musician.  To define sngwrter is hard but I am glad you think I’m a decent one.  I am really a failed bass player.  I had to pick up the band to cover for our singer in the 80’s who got arrested before a show.   I was standing there and knew I wrote the lyrics and most of the music and just had to do it if the show would go on.   Here are a few ideas for you to try or not try. These are very basic but strictly followed for about three days…

You only get that coffee by the way after the first hour.      Wrking and writing within a system can really help when going through a bad time.  Its gold when it works and if it tanks,  well you tried.  Will give a few old tried and true  below till my fingers hurt.  Hope you are well.  I really love all of my time in your company.  It is a huge joke the the west virginian coal mining town hillbilly trailer park  songwriter has moved here. Fuck this towne  Downward mobility I’m lovin it. . Here is a list of a few songwriting kickoffs.

1.  Wake up one hour earlier than usual.  Don’t fuck around with this hour.   Have a glass of water and go to the toilet and sit down at a desk and write.  One hour and not on a computer.  Set a kitchen timer. Better to hear it ring from another room than to keep watching your watch   You aint writing a song or a poem or a msterpiece.   Just write.      It helps to have a good dictionary and one around 1950 is best since it has all you need and is prior to the gutting of so many importnt things.  Pick a page.  Just find a word you like not really random. Then write something like yhe opposite of the deffinition.  Or write a short eight liner about two random things out of the page in front of you. Pile of drgs and mark e smth and you got a fall song.  Personally think its dangerous.

2. A good book. Get a good and not cheap copy. Read about three pages prior to number one read it fast and reread and since its only a few pages take notes.   Also don’t listen to music at this time.  Just mining for ideas.  . Make your own lists and notes and hey you have these pieces and you will see how you can go frm here.    during that hour in nmber one exploit thatgood dxtionary.  Let it take you all over the place.   In about an hour you will have great words and nothing academic and you will easily put your own personal language and  matter material in the midst of such hard fought and won writing.   The music will be next.   That one is another chapter.   Take care. Yours in the good fight.  Hugs.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device


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A Coleman Lantern and a Radio

molina“When I die / put my bones in an empty street / to remind me of how it used to be / Don’t write my name on a stone / Bring a Coleman lantern and a radio / Cleveland game and two fishing poles / and watch with me from the shore

Jason Molina passed away Saturday the 16th of March, 2013, apparently from complications associated with alcoholism. Secretly Canadian’s website says only that he died from natural causes. That he was ill was well-known.

In May 0f 2012 Jason posted a note to the Magnolia Electric Co. website explaining that, after a canceled tour and a long absence, he was out of the hospital, getting treatment, and writing songs again. Just a few months later, Autumn Bird Songs was released on Graveface Records as part of a book collecting William Schaff’s artwork. It looked like Jason was coming backOn Saturday I told my fiancée that I thought we’d hear a new album from him soon.

And then I got the news from Jon Whitney this morning and I felt sick.

Jason Molina is one of my favorite musicians. Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. two of my favorite bands. I remember buying the first MECo. album during a visit to California and listening to it for the first time while driving over the Bay Bridge. I was blown away. It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever heard and after ten years and hundreds of spins it still sounds just as fresh and as powerful as the first time.

As an undergrad I would often take the long way home from night classes so I could smoke cigarettes and listen to more of Axxess & Ace in my car. The more country roads I had to drive down, the better. The long, flat stretches of road and Songs: Ohia seemed made for each other. I memorized lyrics, laughed to “Captain Badass,” and did what I could to find earlier albums. For whatever reason, I never saw them play in Illinois. If they played near St. Louis, I didn’t know about it.

When I moved to South Carolina, Molina’s music came with me. I made sure I knew right where his CDs were so that I could unpack them first. After it came out, What Comes After the Blues blasted from my speakers on the long dark drives back from work for at least two or three months in a row. “The Night Shift Lullaby” was like an anthem on the worst nights. “Hammer Down” the music I finally relaxed to. When I couldn’t listen to Blues anymore, I just switched to another Songs: Ohia record. “Ring the Bell” and “Blue Chicago Moon” got lots of early morning play around that time. I fell asleep to them more nights than I can count.

The first time I met Jason Molina was at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA on October the 1st, 2005. There’s a good recording of that show on Archive.organd I remember it for a lot of reasons. I meant to have Jason sign my copy of Didn’t It Rain, but I decided not to ask. I don’t know why. Jason was always happy to sign things for fans and talk with them. Instead, the record sat in the car and warped in the warm night air. When I saw him in the venue and finally managed to say hi, a short time before MECo. went on, all I could do was tell him that I was from the Midwest and that I liked his music. He said “thank you” and smiled, and he talked to me for a minute. I don’t remember about what exactly, but I do remember he was incredibly nice to me and had a lot to say about the club. I heard “No Moon on the Water” for the first time that night and consequently spent many hours searching for good Magnolia bootlegs. I also remember that I offered to buy him a drink.

I next saw the Company after I moved to Boston, once in 2007 and again in 2009. Both times at the Middle East Club downstairs, in Cambridge. Fading Trails had just come out and Sojourner wasn’t far off. A large part of 2007 and 2008 was spent listening to those records. I was thrilled to finally get a studio version of “No Moon on the Water” and happy to get a peek at how Jason assembled Fading Trails from different recording sessions.

And then Josephine came out. In the review I wrote for Brainwashed I said it “might be the best Magnolia Electric Co. record since the group’s 2003 debut.” It’s damn close. Those Sojourner records are killer too, and darker sounding now than I thought they were then. But the point is that Jason was writing some of his best music a full 13 years into his recording career, despite the fact that he wrote and recorded countless songs, most of which never made it to record.

Whatever Josephine’s status among the other MECo. records, the show the band put on at the Middle East Club on July 17th, 2009 was definitely the best I’d ever seen or heard from them. They had more energy and finesse than at previous shows, a heavier sound that suited them very well, and Jason looked more confident on stage. He yelled and smiled and doused the Cambridge crowd with tea half-way through the set. It was like he was possessed.

When “John Henry Split My Heart” started, the crowd nearly came unglued. I jumped up and down like an idiot. It was an energizing, ecstatic moment in an otherwise difficult year. God willing, I’ll never forget it.

There are other private reasons I love his music so much. Things I’d rather not talk too much about and that probably wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense anyway. But few people wrote music as close to my heart as Jason Molina’s. I said thank you for it a few times. I wish I would have said more.

Safe travels Jason. For the record, the light came shining through just fine. You’ll be missed.

Magnolia Electric Co album cover


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New Music from Jason Molina

Autumn Bird Songs cover Jason Molina hasn’t put out any new music since 2009, when both Josephine and Molina & Johnson were released. In 2011, after cancelling a European and American tour, the Magnolia Electric Co. website posted information that Jason was going through rehab. Other than news about a forthcoming 10″ record, there was no further news until May of this year, when Jason posted an update to the same site.

Then, in September, further news about that 10″ finally came out.

Happily, Jason Molina’s first new music since 2009 is now available via Graveface Records, as part of a new book titled From Black Sheep Boys To Bill Collectors- The music-related artwork of William Schaff. The eight-song EP is called Autumn Bird Songs and is available for cheap as an MP3 download with a PDF copy of the 82-page book, or as a 10″ with a physical copy of the book. The introduction is written by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

Graveface has posted two samples to their Soundcloud page. It’s good to have Molina back: