You would be hard pressed to come across a review of Magnolia Electric Co.'s What Comes after the Blues that doesn't mention Neil Young. The reason for this is pretty simple, it sounds very reminiscent of Neil Young, on first listen at least. People who count this as a fault haven't been paying much attention to Jason Molina's body of work over the years. Granted, the similarities are showcased here more clearly than they have been in the past but they have always been there. It would also be pretty easy to find a review comparing Bright Eyes to Bob Dylan. Is this because Jason Molina and Conor Oberst are ripoffs? No, it's because people always look for a frame of reference from the past rather than judging a contemporary artist for their own merits.
When I first heard this album several months ago, my initial feeling was disappointment. I listened to it a few times and then proceeded to put on a Songs: Ohia album. When Jason Molina ended Songs: Ohia and started Magnolia Electric Co. it was supposedly an effort to form a new identity and a new beginning. I went into this album the same way I would a Songs: Ohia album and that was a mistake. While both projects are similar, it should be factored that this is essentially a debut studio effort by a new band. Anything else just isn't fair. So when I first listened to it and pushed it aside, I hadn't given it a chance. At that time I would have described it as tired, unoriginal and uninteresting. A few weeks ago, I was on a Greyhound bus with a lot of time to kill and an mp3 player. I was coming back from a festival where Magnolia Electric Co. had played a great set that had managed to burrow some of these new songs into my head. So just as the sun began to set and the bus left the city and started across the plains of the Midwest, I put this album on. It was as if I had never heard it before for some reason. I don't know if it's because of the hustle and bustle of normal everyday life when I first heard it or if it was just the peaceful atmosphere of the bus, but this time I was able to pay full attention to the lyrics and music.
The songs on the album all come together for an unspoken common interest. With songs like "The Night Shift Lullaby", "Hard to Love a Man" and "Hammer Down", Molina brings the world a new look at his brand of a thinking man's working class blues. "Leave the City" explores themes of regret and defeat with lines like "Thought of all my great reasons for leaving, Now I can't think of any, It's true it was a hard time that I've come through, It's made me thankful for the blues." The album is wrapped up on a somewhat melancholy yet triumphant tone with "I Can Not Have Seen the Light" where our narrator seems to be just as troubled as ever, but has come to terms with it, "No one has to be alright all of the time."
When all is said and done, this is not Jason Molina's greatest work, but it's an above par debut from a very promising new project. This coming October we will have the chance to see where Molina takes this new project next with a new EP, including a cover of Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London". I'm sure it won't disappoint.
9.2 / 10
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