Songs: Ohia – The Magnolia Electric Co.
Secretly Canadian, 2003
Acquired: Love Garden, New, 2007
This record has an identity crisis. Is this the last Songs: Ohia record or the first Magnolia Electric Co. record? It's a tough call, but honestly, it's a call that doesn't really even matter. Though the name change was announced a year or so after the record came out, and the album was recorded with a different cast of musicians than are currently in Magnolia Electric Co, I think of it as the first Magnolia Electric Co album but file it as the last Songs: Ohia record because that's what I would have done when it came out. And the first time I saw Magnolia Electric Co live half of their material came from this record. Which made me pretty fucking happy. The only elements of this record that I don't like are the guest vocalists. And you know what, they don't even bother me that much, because the songs are so fucking good anyone could sing them and they'd pry sound great. Lawrence Peters gives “The Old Black Hen” a perfect old tyme country vibe, it's just that I think it sounds better when Molina sings it. Which brings me to the Magnolia Electric Co Bonus Disc, which I almost like as much as this record. It's basically just demos played by Molina with an acoustic guitar. It's got most of the songs from the record, and “Whip-Poor-Will,” which recently turned up on Magnolia's latest release, Josephine. I first discovered this record through John Vanderslice's tour diary, where he would constantly reference the bonus disc and include lyrics (always the best lines). Though Steve Albini does mighty fine work with this record, I think maybe I do prefer the bonus disc. No matter, it's still a great record. EXCEPT, I still can't warm up to Scout Niblett singing “Peoria Lunchbox Blues.” I just don't like her voice all that much (this is nothing new) and again, Molina's version is so much better. But, as I said before, the song itself is so good her voice doesn't completely ruin it. Although it does add a little sonic diversity that isn't entirely unwelcome. The latter half is saved by “John Henry Split My Heart” and the epic, heartbreaking, painfully good “Hold On, Magnolia.” The first half is just fucking perfect, though. “Just Be Simple” is a song I've worn around my neck for a long time, in particular that line “And everything you hated me for/ Honey there was so much more/ I just didn't get busted.” For years it was my AIM away message. “Farewell Transmission” served as my final track during the last show of almost every semester at KJHK when I wasn't doing a special program. “I've Been Riding With the Ghost” is easily the most vital song Molina has ever put together, opening with the ever perfect fuck you line “While I was gone you must've done a lot of favors.” And the guitar solos throughout fucking WAIL. I never knew Jason Molina was capable of having wailing in his songs. Honestly, I've come to prefer Magnolia Electric Co, this album included. While his “man with a guitar” records are fine and all, I think he works best with a full band. Magnolia's proper debut, What Comes After the Blues was fantastic, the Sojourner box set (Fading Trails included) was pretty outstanding, and Josephine also did not let down and has still not really worn out its replay value. But here is where Molina really makes me lose my shit. “Hold On, Magnolia” never fails to bring me to pieces. It's that vocal line tied with the distant violin and the very sparse guitar riffage in the background. Kills me every time.
Despite being the weirdest looking bunch of dudes on the circuit, they still somehow manage to come off as cool. Yes, they come off as cool despite Jason Molina looking like Jay Sherman. A true rock and roll miracle!