Release Date: Nov 3, 2009
Record label: Secretly Canadian
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
Few get more lonesome on record than Will Johnson and Jason Molina. I mean, sure Centro-matic can shake the rafters, and South San Gabriel can expand and overwhelm, and Magnolia Electric Co. often sound as big as the Midwestern sky they came up under, but as front men these guys are frayed at the edges, their voices warbling as they stare off into the dark.
It would be silly to pretend that an album like Molina & Johnson was created in a vacuum, when the principals -- Jason Molina and Will Johnson -- each have such a rich history behind them. The two singer/songwriters are best known for Magnolia Electric Co. and Centro-Matic, respectively, but it's their other, more explicitly rootsy/acoustic projects, Johnson's indie folk alter ego South San Gabriel and Molina's Songs: Ohia that are more relevant to the pair's collaborative outing.
It hasn’t been especially relevant for a decade, but way back when, you might have introduced Jason Molina as a Will Oldham protégé. Over the years he’s made his best work collaborating with established songwriters (Arab Strap, Appendix Out, Ali Roberts and Will Oldham on Amalgamated Sons of Rest), and you could say he has his own protégée in Scout Niblett. Molina and Johnson (naming their album Molina and Johnson) want you to know (twice) that Will Johnson isn’t a protégé, this just happens to be an equal partnership including a world-class songwriter who’s been taking his pick of great collaborators, for years.
Indie rock vets struggle to pump life into their off-the-cuff collaboration Between them, Will Johnson (Centro-Matic, South San Gabriel) and Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co. ) have spent the last 15 years filling in the empty spaces on the continuum stretching between Neil Young and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, maintaining a prolific pace that both insures a sprawling catalog and indicates a general hesitance to spend too much time dwelling on any one project. That makes them a suitable pair, and Johnson & Molina—the result of a laidback 10-day recording session in Johnson’s home studio in Denton, Texas—sounds pretty much as you’d expect, given the relatively short incubation time and reportedly relaxed pace.
As the story goes, Will Johnson approached Jason Molina at one of the latter’s gigs in Austin, Texas. They exchanged numbers on tattered napkins and, roughly 5 months later, were hitting the road with all the necessary supplies (beer, food and, obviously, a BB gun), to the studio in Texas where they would spend 10 days recording an album together. According to Johnson, the pair “wrote, co-wrote, workshopped, complimented, scrutinized, drank, invited friends to come play music, smoked, made lots of notes and drawings, drank a little more and shot the BB gun off the back porch”.
Between Memphis and Little Rock runs a particularly unscenic stretch of American highway. Neither hilly nor flat, verdant nor desert, this section of I-40 feels like a time trap: You can drive for what seems like hours through the blank fields and past service stations that dot the roadside, but once you look at the clock, you'll find that only a few minutes have passed. On their first collaboration together, Jason Molina and Will Johnson have made the musical equivalent of that length of Arkansas highway.
Affectionately dubbed the Phantoms of Folk, Magnolia Electric Co. 's Jason Molina and Will Johnson of Centro-matic and South San Gabriel have a collected output on par with Neil Young's Archives. Written and recorded in 10 days, this debut collaboration is a testament to just how deeply these two songwriters sympathize with each other's work, revealing a shared penchant for evocatively detailed images that blossom into visceral narratives.