Even though it arose in part from tragedy, Josephine, the latest from Jason Molina and his band Magnolia Electric Co., may be one of Molina's lightest releases. According to the press notes, Josephine is a concept album written in tribute to former Magnolia bassist Evan Farrell (who passed away in 2007), and the songs here reflect Molina's intention to celebrate Farrell's life, so against mournful ballads like "Knoxville Girl" and "Shenandoah" we have the relative optimism of "Josephine," "Song for Willie," and "The Rock of Ages."
The real problem however, is that Molina has his whole Southern Gothic rock down to a rote science. Despite the injection of hope and a denser sound courtesy of Steve Albini, as well as good execution throughout, most of the songs tread familiar territory.
Two exceptions: "Hope Dies Last" features some nifty vocal syncopation, Molina freelancing over some backing singers who are harmonizing on a hymnlike melody, and "O! Grace" climaxes with a saxophone solo. Otherwise you're just looking at a lot of honky-tonk piano and slide guitar. Which is fine, I guess.
READ: A review of Magnolia Electric Co. at the Middle East Downstairs. By Keir Bristol