Magnolia Electric Co's 2006 album Fading Trails proved to be just a taster for 2007's Sojourner box set, a treasure trove containing FOUR albums. The first, Nashville Moon has Jason Molina and co gone full-on country rock with rockers Lonesome Valley, Montgomery and Don't Fade On Me, each of which appeared on Fading Trails. Elsewhere? We get a ragged, rocking take on Hammer Down, followed closely by No Moon On The Water, again rocking pretty hard leading nicely into the country soul Stones-y title track. There are plenty of uptempo tracks preventing the pace from becoming too plodding, such as the bluesy strut of What Comes After The Blues or the country swing of Don't This Look Like The Dark. North Star is a honky tonk ballad which gathers momentum throughout the song, swelling to a fine brew of sound. This music truly is equal parts messy rock and honky-tonk country.
However it has nothing on the second disc, Black Ram. For me this is everything that Neil Young's Tonight's the Night was made out to be, a dark, mellow yet angry night time rock album. In The Human World has a simple, descending melody before the addition of strings sweeps the track along providing a perfect introduction. Austere, grim guitars open the title track which just gets more beat down and heavier as the track progresses. What's Broken Becomes Better and Will-O-The-Wisp are fine, doleful laments with hard electric guitars. Gentle banjo introduces Kanawha which builds to a guitar solo that cold only be described as 'stonking'. Which in the context of this, is a good thing. The wounded Neil Young-isms are present and correct on the towering A Little At A Time. Many songs, such as Blackbird and And The Moon Hits The Water would be quite ordinary but for the way the guitars are recorded, with such clarity and bite, they really lift each track to great heights. It's a definite highpoint in the extensive catalogue of Jason Molina.
The third disc, Sun Session is the shortest at only four songs. No let up in quality here - Talk to Me Devil Again takes a prime Neil Young sounding delicate riff and combines it with a little organ for Molina to sing his lament. The other 3 tracks are equally strong, including a rootsy rendition of Hold On, Magnolia.
The final disc, Shohola, is something else entirely. The bleakest, most-stripped down set here, it features Jason Molina alone with a guitar, as he wails softly through laments like Steady Now and Take One Thing Along. Night Country and The Spell are grim, resigned and life-affirming, sharing the tone of Gillian Welch's most downbeat material. Shiloh Temple is classic country folk of the kind that Townes Van Zandt used to play. The Lamb's Song features such soft guitar playing you actually lean in to listen harder. This collection is even more downbeat than Molina usually is, one for those long dark nights of the soul.
Possibly Jason Molina's defining project, and definitely one his most ambitious. It contains some of his best work and is essential for anyone interested in his music.