Plumbiferous Media

Josephine – Magnolia Electric Co.

Jun 21st 2009
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Josephine - Magnolia Electric Co.Magnolia Electric Co.
Score: 83

Jason Molina has been recording music since 1996, when he began the group Songs: Ohia, with whom he released ten albums over seven years, all of which displayed his particular mixture of folk, country, and rock. Following Songs: Ohia, Molina formed Magnolia Electric Co. with many of the same members and much the same musical aesthetic. His newest album with Magnolia Electric Co., Josephine (his sixteenth with label Secretly Canadian), not only displays the traits which he’s had so much time to master, but eloquently demonstrates this mastery.

Magnolia Electric Co. uses its instruments extremely intelligently. The bass always provides a very warm, soft sound perfectly suited to Magnolia’s style, and the drums are given quite interesting lines that remain quiet enough to avoid distracting the listener from the rest of the album. In general the mixing is done extremely well, one example being the blending between guitar and piano on “The Rock of Ages” that occasionally even makes the two lines indiscernible, if only for a moment. The album is also pleasantly diverse as far as instrumentation goes – compare the spiritual-influenced sound and chords of “Shenandoah” to the multiple, interacting country guitar lines of the next track, “Whip-Poor-Will.”

Molina’s rich vocals, accentuated with the slight twang of his country influence, build engaging, emotionally invested lines throughout Josephine. From the melancholy and yet hopeful beginning to the album with “O! Grace,” to the final, light track “An Arrow in the Gale,” his vocals fluctuate through a variety of styles, all well done and chosen for the tracks they appear in. The slightly rough sounds of “Josephine” create a clear contrast with the clean sound of, for example, “The Rock of Ages,” accentuated with a choir-like accompaniment which is mixed expertly into the track. It is, then, no surprise that the height of vocal excellence on Josephine is located at the beginning of “Hope Dies Last,” which features a harmony between Molina’s vocals at their absolute best and a second vocal line, creating an amazing counterpoint which serves to begin an excellent track. The only complaint about Molina’s vocals, then, given their quality and diversity across the album, is that they occasionally suffer from a lack of diversity within single tracks – though this is largely excusable.

Throughout Josephine, Magnolia Electric Co. exhibits its ability to creating powerfully emotive images through a mixture of metaphor and sublime metonymy. Molina’s impassioned cry “I lived so long with the shadows / Lord, I became one of them,” is expertly stirring, while the image drawn by the depiction of the singer as walking “With my wings in one hand / And lead in the other / From the crossroads to the shore,” is not only arrestingly drawn but metaphorically elegant. Josephine is filled with these sorts of stories – each compelling on its own, and all together completing a beautiful album.

Josephine provides the listener with many strong sections, but Magnolia Electric Co. also enjoys severely limiting the listener’s exposure to the strongest sections. “Josephine” both begins and ends with very strongly played chords that provide a welcome contrast to the much lighter preceding tracks, but the rest of the track reverts to at least as light a tone as that of “O! Grace,” even when the lyrics are perfectly suited to the heavier style. The first time this style is fully maintained throughout a track is on “The Handing Down,” five tracks later. In addition, the amazing vocals that introduce “Hope Dies Last” only themselves last around forty seconds, even though they could easily carry for several tracks, or at least the entirety of “Hope Dies Last.” In the end, whether this actually has a good or bad influence on the album is debatable.

While Magnolia Electric Co. has recorded some weaker work in the past, Josephine is well done in every aspect. Magnolia has clearly mastered its instrumentals as well as its overall sound, and there is very little to criticize about the album, other than not having enough of the truly excellent elements. Josephine has great instrumentals, vocals, and lyrics, and is overall an excellent album.

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