Album review: Magnolia Electric Company, "Josephine"

 

Sadness is no stranger to the music of Jason Molina. In the 13 years since releasing his first album, Songs: Ohia, Molina's lyrics have been littered with ghosts, the blues and lonely highways under cold, dark moons. Josephine, his latest LP with full band Magnolia Electric Company, is permeated with similarly forlorn imagery, delivered in the songwriter's signature quivering vocals, but it's more ambitious and emotionally resonant than his prior work.

Still reeling from the loss of bassist (and once Bloomington, Ind., resident) Evan Farrell in 2007, the band's country-tinged indie rock seems more powerful and substantial this time around. It's an album about loss and being lost, but uplifts as much as it depresses, serving as both as memoriam for Farrell and a capitulation of Molina's lonesome, dislocated blues.

Split into two distinct emotional halves, the front end of Josephine has a more hopeful country vibe in opener "O! Grace" and in the vocal harmonies of "Hope Dies Last." The second begins with the band's most overt ode to Farrell ("The Handing Down") and features darker, heavier songs like "Map of the Falling Sky" and somber organ piece "Little Sad Eyes," easily two of Magnolia's best songs.

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