2013 has been a fine year for reissues although none can be more welcome than this 10 Year Anniversary Edition of Magnolia Electric Co confusingly the last album by Songs: Ohia before Jason Molina took the name of this album for his new band. No surprises there, "Magnolia Electric Co" is Molina's masterpiece and celebrating its decade long existence is right and proper. Molina died earlier this year at the age of 39 as a result of chronic alcoholism. His music had a dark heart and a desolate core. He sung about it, lived it and possibly died of it. Often compared to Neil Young the music of Jason Molina went well beyond that of a mere copyist. He was a true original, always located on the fringes of success and a man whose recognition that he was "paralysed by emptiness" led him towards destruction that played out in "bad luck lullabies". His music is Americana gold including classics like the uber powerful seven minutes of the epic "Farewell Transmission", the quiet wonder of one of his greatest songs "Just be simple", the power surge of "John Henry Split my Heart" and the wasted country beauty of "Hold on Magnolia". The album was also unique in that Molina relinquished his vocal duties on two songs, the Merle Haggard-esque "The Old Black Hen" and the sauntering "Peoria Lunch Box Blues", giving the lead vocals respectively to Lawrence Peters and Scout Niblett.
Beyond the core of the released album in this 10th Anniversary Edition are extra rare tracks and a second disc consisting only of demos, which was originally released, in its first pressing. Taking the demo album first this truly does add weight to the originals. Firstly it has Molina doing his own versions of "Old Black Hen" and "Peoria" which are rough, ready and heartbreaking. There are also sterling versions of "Farewell Transmission", an uber poignant "Hold on Magnolia", a stripped back version of "I've been riding with the ghost" that this reviewer prefers to the original and two acoustic demos of the extra tracks "Whip Poor Will" and what must rank as one of Molina's greatest songs "The Big Game is Every Night". The former appeared in a polished version on 2009's "Josephine" but both sweet versions here beg the question why Molina left them of "MEC". The lines on "Whip Poor Will" still resonate not least "so all of you folks in heaven not too busy ringing the bell/some of us down here ain't doing very well/ some of us with our windows open in the Southern Cross motel". When it comes to the "The Big Game is Every Night" this was originally included on the Japanese pressing of the album. It pick ups up the whole gamut of Molina themes of the moon, blues, artists, musicians and a hardy perennial references to snakes. The acoustic version of the song is actually less harrowing than the electric version which stretches to 10 minutes and where he finishes with the embittered observation "Show an American if really I am the snake they're all saying/If they look up here do they see just my black tail swaying?/If I'm all fangs and all lies and all poison/If I'm really what they're saying/I don't want to disappoint them". Like "Blue Factory Flame" it is utterly engrossing and compelling. The raw power of the songs conclusion sees Molina reach the pinnacle of his recording career.
The passage of ten years and the passing of Jason Molina confirms that "Magnolia Electric Co" is every bit the equal of Neil Young's "On the Beach", Will Oldham's "I See A Darkness" and Johnny Cash's "American III - Solitary Man". Sadly we just didn't know how great Molina was.