As restless spirits go, Jason Molina takes some topping. Having grown up on the shores of Lake Erie and earned his chops in local HM outfits, Songs: Ohia was conceived as cover for a solo career whose early mandate fed into the Wills Oldham and Callahan well of black meditation. Since his self-titled 1997 debut, Molina has subtly reinvented himself at every turn, high watermarks being 2000’s crushing, compelling Ghost Tropic and last year’s Muscle Shoals-influenced Didn’t It Rain, using a full band for the first time. For his seventh full-lengther, he’s kept the back-up, the live-in-the-studio ethic and enlisted Steve Albini (in whose Chicago studio Magnolia was recorded). The results are stunning. There’s an immediacy of sound, the guitars like glass crushed underfoot, with Molina, backed by Jennie (Pinetops) Benford, compulsively electric. Neil Young is an obvious touchstone. If Ghost Tropic was Molina’s Tonight’s The Night, this is his On The Beach.
Whereas Didn’t It Rain was a veiled yearning for the past, Magnolia… struggles with emotional dislocation and epiphany via classic US metaphor: lost highways, moon-flooded crossroads and lonesome station whistle whine. Opener “Farewell Transmission” unravels with enough stoned menace to suggest the imminent cracking of a furious sky, while “John Henry Split My Heart” employs the same bruised template of gnashing guitars, suspended piano notes and Molina’s vocal double-whammy?at times vibrantly pure, at others retreating over the horizon. The sound of major talent gone major league.