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Magnolia Electric Co.: Josephine (Album Review)


Josephine is the first proper Magnolia Electric Co. album since 2006’s Fading Trails. In 2007, the limited-edition, four-disc Sojourner box set was issued, but it contained mostly released material, demos, and alternate versions of material recorded elsewhere with numerous lineups. Frontman and songwriter Jason Molina is accompanied by a fairly large ensemble, though the palette of instruments still centers around piano, guitars, drums, and a dobro and lapsteel. The music is strictly alternative country-inflected rock, and the arrangements are standard. That said, there is a great comfort in Molina’s limited approach to making music. While it’s true that the listener will raise her eyebrows at the duet between a saxophone and a piano on the opening “Of Grace,” the nearly constant lilt in the grain of his voice belies a kind of disillusionment that is worldweary and disappointed, and never bitter. Standouts on this set include the gorgeous title track, with its Neil Young meets old-time parlor music feel and its dynamite lyrics, to the mournful “Shenandoah” with its sweet meld of steel and electric guitars, to the snarling opening to the spooky “The Handing Down.” Along the way are spooky touches such as the B-3 and trap kit vehicle “Little Sad Eyes,” which sounds like the end title theme to a motion picture. “Heartbreak at Ten Paces,” is a minimal, turtle-paced, mournful, broken love song that belies every bit of sadness Molina can seemingly bear in its lyric and melody. In sum, Josephine is radically different from Magnolia Electric Co.’s preceding records, but it doesn’t need to be. Molina has a consistent — if downcast — view of the world in his songs, and the canvas he uses to express it does so perfectly.