Magnolia Electric Co.
Trials And Errors
omebody tell me: who put the quarter into Jason Molina? After an early career that focused on the introspective guitar voice confessional territory mined by such alt-country luminaries as Will Oldham, Molina seems to have found the volume knob. Beginning with his last album as Songs:Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co., Molina started to write songs that leaned heavily towards the bluesy roots of country rock. Trials And Errors is in many ways a document of that transition from quiet introspection into a collaborative jam based sound that, frankly, rocks.
Before we go any further it should be noted that Trials And Errors is a live album recorded in Belgium in 2003, not long after Molina had put Songs:Ohia to rest in favor of his newly electrified persona. But to discuss these songs within the simple context of a live record misses the point. This record is a document of a sea change in Molina’s perspective as a songwriter. It’s not about reinterpretations of songs or giving the fans something to listen to until the next record comes out. It’s a definitive marker, a turning point for one of our finest songwriters.
It’s certainly no mere coincidence that Molina chose to name the new band after Songs:Ohia’s last album. I would wager that issues of continuity, of leaving a trail that clearly states where he has been, is important to him. Just as important is the selection of this concert as the one to be recorded and released. The show was essentially the debut of Magnolia Electric Co. as a vibrant four piece, wherein band simply rips through the notion of Molina as a quiet country folk singer like Godzilla through a small Japanese town. The band on Trials And Errors completely reworks three old Molina songs (taken from Didn’t It Rain and Magnolia Electric Co.), four songs that are only to be found on this live recording, and three songs that will be released this spring on the next Magnolia Electric Co. record.
That upcoming record, What Comes After The Blues, seems to be composed of dueling guitars, long drawn out ebbs and flows (the shortest song is 5:51 and the longest 9:36), deep resonant bass, and Molina at the forefront of the whole thing flailing away.
The set blasts open with “Dark Don’t Hide It.” Molina and company lay down a blistering attack of rocking guitars and a rhythm section so tight you couldn’t slip a piece of paper between the bass and drums. The band’s reinterpretation of Songs: Ohia’s “Almost Was Good Enough” sheds new light on the original’s claustrophobic arrangement by letting the musicians push the song out into the light creating a far more expansive sound during its surprisingly fast nine minute and thirteen second run time.
“Ring The Bell” segues effortlessly into “Cross The Road” creating a long road of bluesy riffage that peaks in both songs with Molina and guitarist Jason Groth trading feedback laden punches, while “Leave The City” opens with a lonely trumpet that echoes Molina’s sentiment: “It broke my heart to leave the city.”
At 72 minutes the album can feel like a lot to digest at times, but the inspired playing and clear enjoyment that emanates from the crowd prevents the length from doing any irreparable harm.
Magnolia Electric Co. will have to duck a few bricks thrown by those who see Molina copping riffs from Neil Young’s Tonight’s The Night. There are certainly similarities. I imagine this will be Molina’s largest hurdle as Magnolia Electric Co. moves forward. And they should move forward because if Trials And Errors is any indication, Molina may just be turning into the Midwest’s answer to the coast centric world of rock and roll.
Reviewed by: Peter Funk
Reviewed on: 2005-02-02