Even if Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Co. didn’t write songs about loss and loneliness, his pained, hollowed-out voice would still convey those subjects with unsettling intensity. The sympathetic accompaniment of his expansive band—which abandons its on-stage Crazy Horse roar to operate in a spare, desolate gray area between funeral-paced country and bloodshot soul on the quietly breathtaking Josephine—does nothing to make Molina seem any less alone. On the title track, Molina sings about living so long with shadows that you become one of them, and he really sounds like he’s about to be swallowed by the specter of his deepest, blackest memories. Josephine is colored by two memories of loss in particular, one fictional and the other crushingly real: There’s the title character, a pined-after lost love whose name is evoked throughout the album like a mournful mantra, and Magnolia bassist Evan Farrell, who was killed in an apartment fire while the record was being conceived. Josephine will likely be remembered as a tribute to Farrell, but it’s really about the people who get left behind and can’t shake old ghosts. “Lightning on our tail, we gotta run, run, run,” Molina sings on the brisk album-closer “An Arrow In The Gale,” letting his weary vocals show what the lyrics merely tell: There’s no easy catharsis, in life or in art.
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