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Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine Album Cover
Author's Rating
Vocals 8.75
Musicianship 7.5
Lyrics 7.5
Production 7.25
Creativity 7
Lasting Value 7.75
Reviewer Tilt 8
Final Verdict: 77%
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Inside AP.net

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine

Reviewed by: Jeremy Aaron (07/30/09)
Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine
Record Label: Secretly Canadian Records
Release Date: July 21, 2009

Formerly the spearhead of acoustic-oriented act Songs: Ohia, Jason Molina has been giving his songs the full-band treatment as Magnolia Electric Co. since 2005. Josephine is the third proper full-length in the Magnolia catalog, which also includes a live album and boxset, and marks such a new approach for the man and the band that it could have warranted another name change. Molina sounds like an entirely different vocalist; his formerly rough-hewn yelp alternated between sharp and flat, but on most of this new disc, his delivery is silky-smooth, sinewy and pitch-perfect. The band's previous records also carried a sound that's best described as alt-country with a heavy classic rock influence, but Josephine largely sounds like country music pulled from the Nashville Sound era of the late '60s and early '70s.

Molina and company waste no time putting their new style on display, as the opener "O! Grace" represents the transition perfectly, with its twinkling piano recalling an era when the use of piano just started becoming in vogue on country records and Molina's vocals achieving striking new levels of nuance and expression, so much so that one has to wonder if he's been working on his delivery, or if he had it all along and was simply hiding behind the raw, unpolished veneer for the sake of maintaining indie cred. Regardless, "O! Grace" is such a confident and powerful opener that it honestly made Josephine hard to get through in its entirety, simply because the compulsion to go back and play it again was so strong. Admittedly, my upbringing involved a heavy dose of classic country, very much in the vein of "O! Grace," and I wouldn't be surprised if those who grew up on a steady diet of Blink-182 instead might fail to see the appeal.

On the whole, Josephine is a ballad-heavy record, with some songs, like "Rock of Ages" and "Shenandoah" so subdued that it's unlikely Molina could have pulled them off effectively with his old approach. Now, though, his deliberate and controlled singing takes center stage over hushed arrangements, truly owning the songs with a bold and assured performance. The title track sounds like a mid-tempo tune in comparison with the other material here, but it's still a ballad by anyone's standards. Unless you're a '50s teen idol, '80s hair band or current pop-punk act, it's probably a faux pas to name a song, no less your album, after a girl, but we're spared the cheese, as it's mostly a reflective song with lyrics like "I lived so long with the shadows, I've become one of them. Oh, what a fool I've been."

The album has a tendency to be more piano-oriented than earlier Magnolia Electric Co. records, but it does meander off the path, occasionally achieving powerful effect, but sometimes falling flat. "Whip-Poor-Will" is centered around guitar twang, with Molina injecting some surprising emotional quaver. The mostly acoustic arrangement is a welcome break from the shiny Countrypolitan production. "Little Sad Eyes" is a retro jam whose prominent organ parts are reminiscent of a slowed-down version of Question Mark and the Mysterians' '60s classic "96 Tears." Less successful are the off-time harmonies of "Hope Dies Last" or the simply ponderous "The Handing Down." Josephine suffers most from simply being too long, its fourteen tracks much more than the eight on the band's first studio effort What Comes After the Blues and the nine on 2006's Fading Trails. The album contains some exceptionally strong songs (which, without a doubt, make this worth checking out), but it sags at times and could have benefited from some editing. Still, it marks a fascinating progression, in almost all respects, for an already solid band.

Recommended If You LikeDamien Jurado's Caught in the Trees
East River Pipe's What Are You On?
The Avett Brothers' Emotionalism
Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman
Okkervil River's The Stand Ins


Track Listing1. O! Grace (3:29)
2. The Rock of Ages (2:44)
3. Josephine (3:24)
4. Shenandoah (4:38)
5. Whip-Poor-Will (4:14)
6. Song for Willie (2:22)
7. Hope Dies Last (3:17)
8. The Handing Down (3:34)
9. Map of the Falling Sky (3:43)
10. Little Sad Eyes (4:15)
11. Heartbreak at Ten Paces (2:05)
12. KnoXVIlle Girl (3:52)
13. Shiloh (4:12)
14. An Arrow in the Gale (1:22)


Check out Magnolia Electric Co. on Myspace and last.fm.
 
Displaying posts 1 - 5 of 5.
10:47 AM on 07/30/09
#2
TomAce
Still Listens To Limbeck
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soooooo under rated
10:48 AM on 07/30/09
#3
FeynmanWannabe
Take Ecstasy With Me
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Not sure about that Okkervil River mention. Probably should have thrown Neil Young into that mix, that's probably the most obvious riyl.
11:33 AM on 07/30/09
#4
Jeremy Aaron
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Not sure about that Okkervil River mention. Probably should have thrown Neil Young into that mix, that's probably the most obvious riyl.
I can't argue with that. As a whole, it's probably a better comparison. I'm not exactly sure where my RIYLs come from, other than that it's the same place my reviews come from. Thoughts just kind of pop out and I write them down withouth analyzing them too much. After listening to this album yesterday, I had "Starry Stairs" stuck in my head, without me hearing it. Something about this record obviously made me think about it, but I've no idea why.
11:36 AM on 07/30/09
#5
FeynmanWannabe
Take Ecstasy With Me
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I can't argue with that. As a whole, it's probably a better comparison. I'm not exactly sure where my RIYLs come from, other than that it's the same place my reviews come from. Thoughts just kind of pop out and I write them down withouth analyzing them too much. After listening to this album yesterday, I had "Starry Stairs" stuck in my head, without me hearing it. Something about this record obviously made me think about it, but I've no idea why.
You might be right, I've only heard like one song from this so far. Still need to pick it up. I was just going from past MEC material. I didn't comment on the review because I only skimmed. Will go back and read it once I've listened to the album and formed an opinion.
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