Review Summary: An excellent blues album, filled with solid instrumentation, tight riffs, and great lyrics
I couldn't imagine a much more forceful statement of artistic intent than “Farewell Transmission” to open up an album. It begins with innocently enough, with a couple bars of a quiet and enticing melodic guitar riff. But then, just as it’s beginning to pull you into its slow blues, a drum fill kicks in a distorted, crunchy chord progression, and Jason Molina sings, almost matter-of-factly, “the whole place is dark.” “Every light on this side of the town/suddenly, it all went down.” Thirty seconds into the enthralling opener, its irresistible rhythm begins to take hold. Jason Molina’s voice wavers elegantly over strong, bluesy riffs, and it becomes clear that this isn't going to be your standard indie rock affair.
The rhythmic, bluesy nature established by “Farewell Transmission” is the essence of this album. Most of the songs on Magnolia Electric Co.
follow the same pattern. At their heart, they are very much singer/songwriter type songs, but because they are presented with this attitude, they are much fuller than what you might typically hear from the standard guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar-and-some-chords act. The fact that Molina played with a full band was certainly a factor in expanding his sound, and really shows in how well the songs seem to come out as one piece rather than haphazardly arranged folk songs. The drumming and the lead guitar on the album is excellent, and much of the responsibility for driving songs forward falls on them. It is largely because this upbeat, rhythmic drumming and the effective guitar work that songs don’t seem to drag, even though many have five to seven minute runtimes.
Many of the songs on Magnolia Electric Co.
have distinct country influences in addition to their blues/rock backbone. For example, a slide guitar is at the forefront in “just be simple,” while “Old Black Hen” features a guest vocalist with a voice that is basically the vocal equivalent of a slide guitar. While it comes out of nowhere in some sense, it is a good song with some very cool, almost ragtime-y piano licks, and a worthy addition to the album. “Hold on Magnolia” does a great job closing the album out – apart from having some of the best lead guitar on a record built largely on lead guitar, its slower pace allows the lyrics to end it on a dark, but hopeful tone, which is reflective of the album as a whole.
The fact is, all of these songs are pretty simple, even if deceptively so. They almost all end just as they begin, without so much as a standout chorus to break up the relentless verses. But that is part of the appeal of this album. It buries you in the blues. The slide guitar swirls over the same minor chord progressions, while Molina’s abstract lyrics play through melodic vocal harmonies. Standard time signatures carry you from verse to verse, through wailing guitars and violins, and it is difficult to not be enthralled. Magnolia Electric Co.
is well written and well performed, and it exemplifies the deepest and the rockinest of the blues.
Hold on Magnolia