With What Comes After the Blues, we enter a new era with Jason Molina. After seven full-length studio albums in as many years – each recorded using a revolving cast of players under the name Songs: Ohia – Molina has retired the name Songs: Ohia as well as his wayward days and settled in with a new and consistent cast of players. He has named this group Magnolia Electric Co., after his final Songs: Ohia album. Why now? Surely moving to Southern Indiana and finding a once-in-a-career band down in Bloomington in Pete Schreiner, Jason Groth, Mark Rice and Mike Kapinus has had something to do with it.
Sonically, on What Comes After the Blues, there isn’t a huge departure from where Songs: Ohia was headed these past few years. The steel howling hauntedly, the guitars soaring and crunching with verve, and the songs still resonating with timelessness. Steve Albini’s live-in-a-room and captured-as-it-was-played engineering technique is still a crucial player as well. Where we find the marked difference with this new band and with these players in this new cloak are in their confidence as afforded by experience and trust in one another. These guys are talented, hard-working, and actually enjoy playing with one another – and you can hear it in the songs. As on the limited edition live album Trials & Errors (released Jan 18, 2005), Magnolia Electric Co. know exactly what they are shooting for and hit it in the center with every attempt. This is not indie rock anymore. Magnolia Electric Co. have made a no-bullshit album that is both rocking and full of life. It’s a fist pumper and manages to hit great depths of beauty as well.
In the tradition of Bob Seger, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and Ronnie VanZant, Molina is revered as being very personal songwriter who is unafraid to be vulnerable in song. And, like those artists, in Magnolia Electric Co., he has his Silver Bullet Band, Heartbreakers, CCR, Crazy Horse, E-Street Band and Skynard to balance the personal nature of the work with rock & roll of just such a collaborative and sublime nature that it defies being pigeon-holed as folk. Perhaps best categorized as working class rock, Magnolia Electric Co. is the band Molina has been searching for his whole life.
Beginning as a nice folk song with acoustic guitar intro, the Jennie Benford-penned “The Night Shift Lullaby” is met by Rice’s steady drum beat and Mike Brenner’s steel guitar. This howling steel guitar is the phantom that gives an otherworldly feel to the first half of What Comes After the Blues. We find no Molina vocals in the mix, but an outstanding lead vocal performance from Benford with the rest of the Magnolias backing her up, a testament to the fact that Magnolia is not purely a Molina vehicle, but a team effort. A lonesome Molina guitar solo can be heard, however, calling out. He’s come out of his shell as a guitar player a great deal, a product perhaps of his voice having matured over the years, mellowing into a somber tenor. It’s also surely because – in Groth and Brenner – he’s found his perfect guitar foils. Indeed, guitars carry a much greater share of the lyrical weight on What Comes After the Blues, with the three’s guitars often engaging in a dialogue in their own tongue.
Perhaps the album’s stand-out track is “Leave The City”, the ode Molina penned to his beloved former home of Chicago. On it, with a crying trumpet soaring at full-mast he sings:
Broke my heart to leave the city / I mean it broke what wasn’t broken in there already / But all my great reasons for leaving / Now I can’t think of any / It’s true, it was a hard time that I come through / It’s made me thankful for the blues