Over the course of nearly fifteen years, Magnolia Electric Co's Jason Molina has been there and done that already, and by 'there' and 'that' I mean everywhere and everything (just about), constantly churning out albums under various monikers and involving himself in a number of collaborations. After finally allowing himself a little time between studio releases, Molina and company are back with Josephine, a low-key country folk album among the more simple and relaxed of the prolific artist's works (specifically his earliest material), but there's a subtle, yet distinct sense of progression that reveals itself throughout the 47 minutes. Though the album has perhaps more than its share of inconsistencies, Josephine is nonetheless a welcome return for this talented songwriter.
Josephine is a meandering affair, with the band slowly working its way through mournful ballads and heartbreaking hymns with Molina's usual moodiness manifested in lyrics like 'I lived so long with the shadows, Lord, I became one of them' from the title track or 'I've been as lonesome as the world's first ghost' from highlight and opener "O! Grace." Though the album can feel a bit too weighty and downtrodden by its end, there's a sweetness here that works as a salve to Molina's frequently deep cuts. Given the album was inspired by and dedicated to the life of late Magnolia Electric Co. bassist Evan Farrell, however, that bittersweet emotion is both expected and welcome. Aside from the previously mentioned tracks, highlights include the harmony-heavy "Hope Dies Last" and the especially lonesome "Whip-poor-will," in which Molina searches in the dark of night for comfort and answers in song. With the lovely (and all too brief) closer "An Arrow in the Gale," the band both brings things full circle and leaves the listener with a positive, hopeful feeling looking forward - a sense that the adventure must continue and life be experienced to the fullest, the good and the bad, the joy and the pain.
Josephine does drag a bit toward the end and even with no especially weak songs, the record seems like it might have been more effective with the exclusion of a couple tunes for brevity's sake. Molina is on enough of the time, though, that the emotion imbued into the songs hits home consistently while the strong musicianship of all involved is evident in each tune; the raw guitars, gentle piano, and shuffling percussion give life to the music without ever seeking to take the spotlight from the excellent songwriting where it belongs. Ultimately, the record's strengths provide compelling reasons to give Josephine more than just a cursory listen and the more time you spend, the more beauty can be found here.