It’s hard to doubt that a 10th Anniversary release of The Magnolia Electric Co. would see the light of day, even if it’s auteur, Jason Molina, had not passed away earlier this year. But it’s impossible to deny that his death heightens this cult album’s sense of lonely, tragic struggle with a kind of miserable poetic beauty. The original songs, with their band-in-a-room, naturalistic atmosphere, still sway and pulse, the Neil Young comparisons still inevitable, but this record continuously reaches near-perfection, even if it sounds like all it wants to do is open a drink, and talk about itself a little more. The demos in the re-release, mostly of Molina quietly strumming, decorated by his aimless but beautiful melodies, are intimate and a wonderful insight into how an album grows from a solo venture, to a project on a wider scale.
Opening track, ‘Farewell Transmission’ sets the precedent. It’s lilting slide guitar gently surmising a mood that never really departs the album. By the time the riff returns about four minutes in, you’ll wonder how something so simple could so sublimely compliment Molina’s iconic, endlessly poetic lyrics.
Arguably, ‘John Henry Split My Heart’ teeters too close to the grungy country rock of Neil Young alongside his Crazy Horse outfit, but that doesn’t stop it being a killer track, all guitar stabs and drum fills, with a dim melody straight from the book of boozed up poets.
The original album is augmented with two additional tracks. ‘The Big Game Is Every Night’, originally included with the Japanese release of the album, is a tragic ballad set to a waltz rhythm; a swaying breeze with a bite in its chill. ‘Whip Poor Will’ is a country duet that acts as an even more satisfying closer than original, ‘Hold On Magnolia’; Jennie Benford’s quivering vibrato crawling along like a Molina alter ego. It’s sublime and strained.
Unusually for demo tracks, so often lumped into re-releases, the additional tracks included with Magnolia… are astoundingly personal and a true insight. His melodies often feel wondering and uncertain, as if he only sung them into existence at that very moment. They’re worth the price of the disk alone.
The Magnolia Electric Co. is full of the kinds of tracks fans of alt. country wish bands like Bands Of Horses would make, instead of the easy pop-rock they and many of their peers have fallen into. It’s raw, understatedly catchy and more than anything, it’s honest. The brighter, sober future dreamt up in ‘I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost’, might have never come into fruition for Molina but for its perfect three and a half minutes it feels a very real possibility, and you’ll believe it too.
Words: Jack Olchawski