Jason Molina’s prolific discography can be attributed to three words: work, work, work. The leader of the now-deceased Songs: Ohia and the mastermind of Indiana-based outfit Magnolia Electric Co., his ethic is the antithesis to traditional Rock & Roll decadence. Molina writes lyrics daily (eschewing a reliance on inspiration), frequently rotates old material for new songs in his set list, owns no cell phone and strives to rise at 7 a.m. (including when on tour). By situating himself in simplicity rather than excess, Molina has managed to carve a life out of music since the late ‘90s, even if he has been under the radar for most of it.
Now living in London, Molina’s recordings aptly reflect his earthy ambitions. The title track off full-length Josephine (due later this month on Secretly Canadian) is a fine example of the range of his abilities: the sparse, tepid AltCountry rattle features the northeastern Ohio-bred singer carefully dissecting the relationship between him and the eponymous subject, leading into the chorus with “Oh, what a fool I’ve been.” The timid instrumentation and Molina’s introverted ramble make the song feel both minimalist and incomplete. It’s pretty, yes, but also a little dull. Resonance might relieve these issues.
The songwriter’s light burns brightest when he’s lost in the wilderness of his own wordplay, which, when at its peak, sounds like what Walt Whitman might pen if he refined his scribbles for a heartland Rock band. A taste of “The Last Three Human Words,” a particularly stark piece from Magnolia’s 2005 debut Trials & Errors: “Remember when you got here/ How the bending willows hung/ How your eyes stung from the mercury/ And you found on your tongue/ All the words to all the songs you were sure/ Only the night could have sung.” Molina’s wistfulness can be airy at its most contemplative.
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