From the first notes of the opener "Farewell Transmission" on the Magnolia Electric Co. experienced Songs: Ohia listeners will immediately pick up on Molina's new direction. On this album, Jason Molina has put aside minimalism in the music of his previous albums and has picked up a steel pedal guitar and has developed a backing band. Molina's melancholy, love-lost crooning remains, but Magnolia is not another quiet, intimate folk record. Although there is a break in the momentum of the album with the different singers on tracks five and six, Magnolia is an album that both veteran and new Songs: Ohia listeners will enjoy.
This is my first Songs: Ohia experience. Outcome? Excellent. Slide guitar, slow to mid-tempo songs, and a sound that can almost be reminiscent to Counting Crows at times (go ahead and flame me), I have found myself going back to this CD more than I expected. The vocals are incredibly laid back and have a vibe that is just incredibly warming. Almost as if as bad as your life is, you can listen to him sing and feel as if it can't be worse than he has it. The female backup's are a welcomed and enjoyable addition to the atmosphere of the record. As Jeff said, once "The Old Black Hen" plays, you are taken aback by the change. I must say I enjoy Molina's voice a lot more so it's kind of a let down to me. I really enjoyed the disc and I give it a reluctant 8. Probably deserving of a 9 but there is something holding me back from giving it a 9. This CD has me eagerly awaiting Pyramid Electric Co.'s release later on in the year, that is for sure.
After falling in love with songwriter Jason Molina's ensemble last year through the somber and deeply confessional Didn't it Rain, my expectations were set extremely high for both of his 2003 releases, Magnolia Electric Co. and Pyramid Electric Co., which will be released later this year.
The first thing that struck me about Magnolia Electric Co. was that it had richer instrumentation than the overwhelmingly stripped-down Didn't it Rain. If you've heard any Songs: Ohia albums prior to this one, rest assured that Magnolia, especially the first two songs, will completely catch you off guard. In addition to the various strings and pedal steel that Molina and Co. use in "Farewell Transmission," the second song, "I've Been Riding With the Ghost" yields Songs's most upbeat song to date. The lovely and familiar background vocals of Jennie Benford dominate "Ghost," essentially using her haunting vocals as an additional instrument.
I can't end this review without mentioning the surprise that awaits the listener in "The Old Black Hen" and "Peoria Lunchbox Blues." These songs don't use Molina as a vocalist, and this technique is extremely effective in creating a more vivid listening experience for owners of the LP as "Hen" and "Peoria" are the first two songs on the second side of the record. I'm not sure how effective this will be for owners of the CD, because it will most likely seem like a bizarre change of pace with no pretense whatsoever.
The only unfortunate aspect of this technique is that "Old Black Hen" was originally sung by Molina and included on the bonus disc for preordering geeks like myself, and the demo version of this song is one of my favorites from both the LP and the bonus tracks. I enjoy the vocals that are used in this song on the album itself, but the absence of Molina's quaver and melancholy is difficult to swallow.
Songs: Ohia not only create and improve upon their signature style of brilliant lyrics and captivating songwriting and instrumentation, but they create a concise monolith for 2003 whose excellence will be difficult to topple.
8.333333333333333333333333333 / 10
Reviewed by 3 writers.
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