When many people think of the music of North Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, working class rock anthems come to mind. The rustic landscape of idled factories and abandoned mines conjures up vivid images of the kind of things documentary makers like to call decay porn. One of the best artist to capture this landscape in music was Jason Molina.
Originally from Lorain, Ohio, Molina recorded under his own name as well as Magnolia Electric Co. and of course Songs: Ohia. The odd name may make reference to the region he called home, a place where of northern post-industrialism meets rural Appalachian virtues. The Appalachian parts no doubt influence the vivid yet sparse poetry, but everything else drew from more popular rock based styles.
The music of Songs: Ohia could range from dense to sparse, but its roots are anchored in folk music with indie-rock, lo-fi and even alt country influences. Essentially Songs: Ohia was a one man band with a revolving guest list.
The sixth Song: Ohia album, Didn’t It Rain, named after an old gospel song made famous by Mahalia Jackson, is perhaps Molina’s best. On the live studio recording Molina slows things down to a slow and deliberate pace, emphasizing his beautiful ‘Appindustural’ poetry. Set to mandolin from Jim Krewson from Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops.
The other half of the Pinetops, Jennie Benford provides backup vocals and harmony that’s reminiscent of early ’80s indie rock. It’s hauntingly beautiful on songs like the title track. While the tempo is slow and deliberate on parts of the album, it’s when the pace picks up that the songs become the most interesting.
The intensity of “Ring the Bell” is enhanced by an infectious loop of a cello. On “Blue Factory Flame” and “Blue Chicago Moon” a pronounced bass line moves the songs along with some urgency, something not usually heard in string centered Songs: Ohia compositions.
Didn’t it rain may be one of the more accessible of Songs: Ohia recordings, but like a lot of good music, it never made any commercial impact. Sadly, Jason Molina died of cancer in 2013. His last album Autumn Bird Songs was released under his own name in 2012. With 20 or so albums released under various names, Molina left an important legacy of progressive folk rock in an area of the Rust Belt more associated with hard rock and punk. He and his contributions will be missed.