Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine (2009)


Josephine is a weighty, mature album about real loss and dislocation, bringing forth a more minimalist aesthetic than the band has attempted to date. For Josephine, the band teamed once again with engineer Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago for what proved to be an emotional recording session.

About halfway through Josephine, there is a noticeable shift in weight. It's a release of some sort — the kind that comes when you give up holding back the tears. It's a heavy kind of freedom coming to the forefront, an empowering sadness. And when chief Electrician Jason Molina delivers the line "an hour glass... filled with tears and twilight from a friend's dying day," the mood becomes clear. The band is on its heels, yes, but they are going to fight back in the only way they know how.

Molina's concept album is an honest-to-God effort on the part of Magnolia Electric Co. to pay tribute to the life and spirit of fallen bassist Evan Farrell (R.I.P. December 2007). Molina said each tune is a good faith attempt to make real Evan's hopes for the record. And in doing so, Evan's spirit becomes part of the concept. The loss of Josephine becomes the loss of Evan. Molina's familiar lyrical allegories are still in tact. But here, in what is no doubt the strongest set of songs Molina has written since the inception of Magnolia Electric Co., those classic themes take on new meanings. Molina has approached the universal loneliness before, but never in such a focused, directed manner as found on Josephine.

Josephine is also an experiment in Molina's songcraft, introducing some real lessons in brevity as he whittles a handful of tracks into well-under three minutes. There are cues taken from great songwriters like Willie Nelson and Warren Zevon, ie the horn section throughout the record and the especially the sax solo on the Zevon-esque lead track "O! Grace," or the doo-wop leanings found in "Rock of Ages." The album closer, "An Arrow in the Gale," acknowledges that Magnolia Electric Co., as the road warriors they have truly become, are still blazing the trail with the line "Lightning on our tail, we better go, Jo."

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