Earlier this year, journeyman songwriter Jason Molina sadly passed away at the age of 39 after struggling with alcohol abuse. He was a prolific musician, performing alternately under his own name or with his bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. While he never quite reached the mainstream, many cite him as a “songwriter’s songwriter.” Musicians from Jim James (My Morning Jacket) to Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) hold up Molina as one of the best in the business, and it’s hard to disagree. For Molina, music was more than a passion: he lived the blues that he often sang about.
Molina came up through the ranks of the alt-country movement, first adopting the Songs: Ohia moniker as a solo artist in Bloomington, Indiana. Eventually, Songs: Ohia turned into a full-fledged band, renowned for savage live shows that provided some bite to the more straightforward country-rock of the time period. Arguably, the greatest document of the alt-country era is Magnolia Electric Co., Songs: Ohia’s 2003 album. Taking cues from Neil Young’s honest and harrowing storytelling, Molina and his bandmates crafted a dark masterpiece with the help of punk figurehead Steve Albini. He captured the band live, allowing them to stretch out into thornier territory. Molina’s weathered voice is the main draw, but the volcanic interplay between guitar, pedal steel, and drums form a formidable foundation.
In honor of the album’s ten year anniversary, Magnolia Electric Co. is getting the deluxe re-release treatment this week, featuring many of the album’s songs in stripped-down demo form. There’s a sense of mystery to a lot of Molina’s work–his discography is confusing enough, considering Magnolia Electric Co. the album soon led to the band of the same name–but it’s his honesty that’s most arresting. “While you’ve been busy crying about my past mistakes / I’ve been busy trying to make a change / Now I’ve made a change,” he sings on “I’ve Been Riding With The Ghost,” and right on cue, the background singers wail like ghosts. It’s a goosebump-raising moment on an album–and a career–full of them.