Today’s Cool Album of the Day (904 in the Series) is Songs: Ohia, The Magnolia Electric Co.
We’ve lost some good ones over the last few months, most recently Phil Everly of course, and Phil , along with the likes of Lou Reed and George Jones, shall be sadly missed indeed. For the moment however i’d like to shine some light on someone you may not have heard of, Jason Molina, a wonderfully talented singer and songwriter whose death in 2013, at the age of only 39, was a real tragedy not least because he surely had so much more to contribute.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
Jason was a prolific artist and between 1997 and 2002, working under the banner Songs: Ohia, he released an incredible nine albums and four EP’s. Some were sparse and confessional and others had a richer, full band sound. At the heart of each release lay Jason’s raw and honest songs. Stark , harrowing and always true to himself. He told it it as he saw it, laid his feelings bare.
Released in 2003 todays selection The Magnolia Electric Co was his best album ’til that point and a real step up in quality.
There’s an abundance of riches on offer here and , for me, three real stand-out efforts:
1/ Just Be Simple
A longing to go back to a less stressful and better time. Before everything went wrong and the problems mounted and the Ghost turned up. Jason was a man who had some bleak times and the Ghost would appear to be one of his metaphors for depression and his black moods, it crops up on several songs from the period. This song has one of my favourite opening lines from ANY artist:
“you’ll never hear me talk about / one day getting out / why put a new address /on the same old loneliness”
It’s a gorgeous track , laced with some absolutely perfect steel guitar work , and it ends all too soon with Molina explaining to us what his life was all about at that point in time :
“trying trying trying……….to be simple again”
Possibly my favourite song on the album this one and it’s not even sung by my man Molina. Instead his friend Lawrence Peters takes over vocal duties for a laconic country lament which he delivers in a gentle, laid-back drawl. The writer appears to be bemoaning the fact that he’s been cursed by bad luck and depression since birth but despite it all he’s battled on , making sure to keep telling the truth in his songs:
“tell them that every day i lived / i was trying to sing the blues the way i find them”
Beautiful , and very poignant in the light of what we now know.
3/ Finally. last track on the album, we have Hold On Magnolia within which we find Jason, addressing himself again no doubt and offering up words of consolation and hope, holding out the promise that despite it all he knows he can come through, learn to live with the Ghost upon his shoulder and, ultimately, triumph………but, i dunno, towards the end it seems as if he’s almost given up, slipping away.
God, this is hard to listen to now.
Jason’s fans always knew he had troubles and in fact he had been ill with alcohol related problems for the last few years of his life. We refused to believe that it could possibly be as serious as it it turned out to be though and always thought things would be resolved, our man would get back to good health and making his music.
Alas no. It wasn’t to be. In the end, the demons won. Jason slipped away from us on March 13 last year, a truly sad day for us all.
He was a wondrously talented man and a true artist.
I play his work often (he recorded at LEAST three superb albums after this one and actually changed the name he recorded under to Magnolia Electric Co. , so much did he like this album !) and there’s always a real bittersweet sadness there now. How could it be otherwise……………….
Farewell Molina , you were loved
– Stephen Dalrymple, Glasgow, Scotland
All songs written by Jason Molina.
- “Farewell Transmission” – 7:22
- “I’ve Been Riding with the Ghost” – 3:20
- “Just Be Simple” – 4:20
- “Almost Was Good Enough” – 4:28
- “The Old Black Hen” – 5:48
- “Peoria Lunch Box Blues” – 5:48
- “John Henry Split My Heart” – 6:09
- “Hold on Magnolia” – 7:51
- Jason Molina – voice, guitar
- Jennie Benford – voice, mandolin
- Mike Brenner – lapsteel
- “Three Nickel” Jim Grabowski – piano, organ, wurlitzer
- Dan Macadam – guitar, voice, violin
- Jeff Panall – drums
- Lawrence Peters – voice (on “The Old Black Hen”)
- Scout Niblett – voice (on “Peoria Lunchbox Blues”)
- Dan Sullivan – guitar
- Rob Sullivan – bass