Saturday, August 6, 2016

Songs: Ohia - Magnolia Electric Co

The final Songs: Ohia album is a curious beast.  Released in 2003, some consider it the first Magnolia Electric Co album.  It features a much fuller sound than any previous album put out be Jason Molina.  That sound is pretty much defined by opening track Farewell Transmission, which is a full throttle, seven minute, countrified Crazy Horse rocker.  I've Been Riding With The Ghost and Almost Was Good Enough have a similarly rocking, spooked-out feel.  It's light years away from the sparse crawl of early Songs: Ohia.

Just Be Simple shoots for the other side of the Neil Young coin, with a lightness of touch and a drumbeat that could have crawled off Harvest, guitars that twang and cooing backing vocals.  This country feel is ramped up with the first of two guest vocalists.  Lawrence Peters takes lead on The Old Black Hen and goddamn if it doesn't feel like a good old country tune from Nashville's heyday, particularly with the addition of fiddle and honky tonk piano.  It seems straightforward until the twist at the end of it when Peters sings "I was trying to sing the blues the way I find them."  On the other hand, Peoria Lunch Box Blues features high-pitched backing vocals from Scout Niblett, but this track has a haunted, bleak On The Beach feel.  

As if to remind himself that he's the mainman, Molina comes roaring back in on the harrowing John Henry Split My Heart.  Drums pound, guitar riffs whiplash back and forth, and there are few shafts of light in this particular heart of darkness.  The album finishes with the downbeat country drift of Hold On Magnolia, finishing on an uncertain, almost underwhelming note.  Hold on to what? Or for what?

This album's unrelenting intensity has the effect also of being the most accessible Songs: Ohia album.  A vital soundtrack for nights of rage, raging against the dying of the light.  And wallow in it.