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Songs: Ohia
MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO.
BY MIKE MILIARD
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Jason Molina, the Chicago singer-songwriter who is Songs: Ohia, has a voice that conjures the color of sadness ó a reedy, doleful quaver. On his 10th full-length, Molina supplants his usually spare, solo-acoustic approach with a full band who exponentially increase the power of his vision; twice he even cedes vocal duties (to labelmate Scout Niblett, who sings in rapturous tongues on "Peoria Lunch Box Blues," and Wichita Shut-In Lawrence Peters, who apes a chaw-stained cowpoke on "The Old Black Hen," Magnoliaís only weak moment).

But this is Molinaís record, and itís his apotheosis. The astounding opener, "Farewell Transmission," starts slow, building into an epic dirge with whorls of murky melody ó innumerable plodding guitars, peals of plangent lap steel, choruses warning of "long, dark blues." Through it all cuts the windswept plaint of Molinaís voice, his rust-brown heartland poesy evoking hardscrabble quotidian purgatory ("Now theyíll be working in the cold gray rock . . . working in the hot mill steam") and elemental transcendence ("Iíll streak his blood across my beak, dust my feathers with his ash, feel his ghost breathing down my back"). The tenderly empathetic "Hold On Magnolia" excepted, the rest of the album is just as robust, from the vigor Steve Albiniís forceful production gives the bracing confessional "Iíve Been Riding with the Ghost" to the influence of Zuma-era Neil Young on "John Henry Split My Heart," which thunders along on Crazy Horse hooves.


Issue Date: October 3 - 9, 2003
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