The sad departure of Jason Molina with his death from alcoholism earlier this year still haunts his many admirers and there remains an aching feeling that a great talent has been lost without as yet the proper recognition. The recent tribute album "Weary Engine Blues" to Molina partly addressed this deficit containing covers of his songs by stalwarts of the US music like Will Oldham, Mark Kozelek, Mt Eerie's Phil Elverum, Alasdair Roberts, Damien Jurado and Will Johnson. Jurado's acoustic bare boned cover of "I've been riding with the ghost" in particular captured the desolation and power of Molina's often depression fuelled lyrics. Alternatively Molina could rock out with the best and frequent comparisons were made between his band Magnolia Electric Co to Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
This live album is evidence of his power on stage and kills the myth of a mere Neil Young copyist, although the working of Young lyrics into his songs was not unknown. For example the epic "The Big Beast" on this album features verses from "Tonights the night". "Trials and Errors", is a live album Molina and his band recorded one night in Brussels during 2003. IT is a brilliant set of brutally hard guitar driven rock. There are few embellishments to the recording which have led some to compare it to "Time Fades Away". In truth its not that brooding but it does have a dark edge not least in the words of the "Dark don't hide it" which blasts open the album with a furious cacophony. Even more raucous and powerful is the eight minute plus power outing "Such pretty eyes for a snake" which almost has a Pixies quiet/loud quality to it. Two killer songs follow both exceeding the eight minute mark. First up is one of Molina's best word workouts as he scornfully observes at point "A tall shadow dressed how secrets always dress/When they want everyone to know that they're around./Leaning in whispering/"My friend over there don't know what he's talking about." This is followed by the monster song "North Star" an incendiary guitar driven Crazy Horse infected eight minutes of Molina and his band reflecting on life's woes. At one point he muses that " I didn't know how blue I'd get/I didn't know how I'd get blamed for it/I didn't choose to go down this road/No one chooses to be sick". It could have been his epitaph. Much more tender is "The last 3 words" which just about ticks over a haunting Molina vocal when his voice almost cracks. The version of Ring the bell" is actually better on here than the studio version of Songs: Ohia classic 2002 "Didn't it Rain" and throughout the band made up of Molina on lead guitar and vocals ably aided by the talents of Pete Schreiner (drums), Mike Kapinus (bass and trumpet), and Jason Groth (guitar) are as tight of as bank lending conditions. Live albums which just spew out pallid greatest hits versions of immaculately produced studio songs can bore for Britain. In this case "Trails and Errors" is the right title for a rough hewn. rollicking, sometimes out of tune but never less than compelling set from a much missed musician still writing the opening chapters of what would have been a great musical novel.
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I was steered in the direction of this album, a limited edition live release by the new band of ex-Songs: Ohia frontman James Molina, by a complementary review in Uncut magazine and then hearing a couple of songs hosted on the record label's website. The influence of early Neil Young / Crazy Horse is plain to hear, even without the segue of the last song into a cover of "Tonight's The Night", but the impression is always of someone picking up the baton and taking it on a step rather than simple copying. The songs are pushed along on the wave of a simple 2 guitar/bass/drums basis and occasional flurries of trumpet, with the simple live arrangements giving full rein to the clear but emotional lyrics. A definite find and a band I'm really looking forward to seeing when they hit the UK in June - recommended to anyone who believes a love song can only benefit from 3 minute guitar solos ...
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