Magnolia Electric Co. – Josephine

Review Score: 5.6

Personal tragedy and suffering have always been an incredibly powerful creating force behind many great albums.  Often when the feelings of the artist are at their most sincere the music he creates is in turn at it’s most purest and beautiful form. Yet for all the creative force such unfortunate events spark in the mind of the musician they can also have the power to alienate the listener. For such albums to work, these raw feelings have to be transposed in such a way that the balance of the artist’s personal tragedy and the ability of the listener to relate to it is always perfectly maintained.

Josephine was conceived by Jason Molina as a tribute to bassist Evan Ferrell, who tragically died in 2007. Upbeat has of course never been what Molina’s music is about and the fact that this is a commemoration of a departed friend makes the record even more solemn, haunting and gloomy than one would expect. This dark atmosphere obviously serves the purpose of conveying Molina’s sorrow to the listener. Yet somewhere along the line this daunting self pity and woe starts to become tiresome and draining. The very generic and predictable country arrangements do nothing to help and the crawling pace only makes it worse.

All these things contribute to alienate the listener. It never captures or captivates you. Instead it overwhelms and pushes you away. Lyrically, Molina is, as always, on top. Musically, the predictability and lack of variety contribute decisively to making Josephine less than spectacular.

Keeping in mind the commemorative concept it was built around, criticizing these aspects may seem uncalled for, but in the end these are the things that stop Josephine from reaching the quality of albums like Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago.


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July 2009
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