Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Magnolia Electric Co.- Sojourner

Magnolia Electric Co.
Sojourner (Secretly Canadian, 2007)
Grade: A

Download: Magnolia Electric Co. - "Lonesome Valley"
Download: Magnolia Electric Co. - "Hammer Down"

I've always been a little cool on the double-album idea, as one of the two discs always seems to be filled with crap, so you can imagine how I felt about Magnolia Electric Co. releasing a four CD, one DVD set.

Well, you can consider my doubts rescinded. Sojourner is pure gold from start to finish.

I'm always searching for unique folk music, especially that which returns to the working-class sensibilities of American folk music's origins. Jason Molina's (Mr. Magnolia himself) style of songwriting is simple and straightforward. I suppose predictability could be a complaint about his writing, but I find that his approach to writing invokes the no-frills style present at the genre's birth, especially on the opener to Sojourner's first disc, "Lonesome Valley." Whether or not Molina is actively trying to recall the roots of folk music, I think he does it very well.

On other tracks, Molina pays his respect to '60's folk rock. Most noticeably on "No Moon On the Water," the dark, wailing guitars are reflective of Neil Young at the start of his solo career. Molina also sounds like Neil in phrasing and to a lesser degree in voice. I never heard the resemblance before this record, but it's pretty hard to miss. And I like it. He works the sound and is able to create perfectly poignant, expressive moments in almost every song.

The last thing that I absolutely love about this record is it's lyrical content. Molina has always had a knack for being a wandering poet, someone who can feel homeless in his words, but yet create crystal-clear images of transient places and feelings. Images of dark highways, fading moons and country crossroads coalesce to give a strong sense of place: I can picture these localities, feel their temperature and smell the air, simply because they feel so familiar. Maybe I can't pinpoint them exactly on a map, but I can see them so clearly that they might as well be real. While this clear sense of place develops, Molina is already taking you away from it, filling the scene with sorrow and detachment. It's both beautiful and frustrating.

Sojourner is a really, really incredible album. It's the perfect soundtrack for your final summer road trip (Maybe up to see Wilco on September 4th?). The collector's edition will run you about 40 bucks (four CDs, one DVD, crazy little box and medallion). Otherwise, iTunes has the two-disc set available for $20.

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(April Wright)

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