Monday, August 06, 2007

Sojourner: Sun Session

Continuing my journey through the Magnolia Electric Company box set called Sojourner, I'm now on disc # 3, called Sun Session. I've previously covered Nashville Moon and Black Ram, for anyone not following along at home.

Sun Session is an EP, only about fifteen minutes in length, featuring just four songs. According to the MEC website, it was recorded in a single day, back in March of 2006, at Memphis' Sun Studios, by most of the usual suspects (Molina, Groth, Schreiner, Rice, etc). All but one of the songs have been previously released, two on Fading Trails and one on the transitional Magnolia Electric Company album (either the swan song of Songs: Ohia or the MEC debut, depending on who you talk to) - although that one's re-interpreted here quite drastically. It's certainly a strong, though small, sampling of MEC music.

"Talk To Me Devil, Again" leads off the CD, in what seems to be the same form as showed up on Fading Trails. Like everything else on that 2006 release, it's very powerful, both musically and lyrically. I've come to realize as I've gone through Sojourner, that the contents of Fading Trails were essentially the best of each of these earlier recording sessions. Certainly that holds true on this disc, with this song and the next one being simply exquisite. A few lyrics:

"Devil if I fall hold out no water to me
Devil when I fall, hold out no hand
Devil unwind what’s empty
Devil unbind my heart
Devil make the two ends meet
Devil if I fall apart
Talk to me devil, again (x3)
Baby I still have time"

Next up is "Memphis Moon," also from Fading Trails, and possibly one of the most sadly beautiful songs I've ever heard. I wrote months ago about choreographing a music video in my head, as I biked along and listened to "Cross The Road, Molina" on Trials And Errors. The only other song I've ever had that experience with is "Memphis Moon." Whereas the former example was full of action and excitement, devising a video for this song always seems to call for something very small, personal and full of heart-ache. In my head, I see it as being about an older couple, with the grey-haired wife on her deathbed and the husband seated beside her, reminding her of stories from when they were younger. See if you don't see a little of that yourself as you consider:

"Tea for two stars falling from the memphis sky (x2)
I know the night bird called you now
Everything is fine
I know it’s soon to be fading out
But oh, didn’t we shine
Didn’t we shine

Some people say that the memphis blues ain’t bad (x2)
Put your little hand in mine darling
I know you’re fading fast
It weren’t the memphis blues you had
But baby you still shine

Goodbye my love, goodbye my love, goodbye
Turn your lamp down low my love, goodbye
I hear the whistle singing now to the lonesome pine
I know that we faded out
But oh, didn’t we shine
Didn’t we shine"

I also have something of a special relationship with the third song on Sun Session, "Hold On Magnolia." When buddy Tim was trying to interest Vicki and I in Magnolia Electric Company, back when I didn't know them from Spider-Man and the Electric Company, he'd lent us a couple of their CDs and was hoping we'd want to go see them in concert a few weeks later. I remember listening to the Magnolia Electric Company CD, and sort of liking it after a couple times through, but being a little undecided because of that whole country tinge to it. But it was the closing song, "Hold On Magnolia," so strangely sad and yet uplifting at the same time, that first connected with me and made me want to hear it again. And pretty soon I'd play the CD every night, because I couldn't wait to experience that amazing finish once again. And of course it wasn't long before the rest of the album had similarly won me over, and its follow-up What Comes After The Blues? was soon gobbled up, and by then I was a goner. What's included on Sun Session is a re-recording of that seminal track, with a more low-key instrumental accompaniment. As you'd expect, it's quite jarring to encounter it like that, and my first reaction was to recoil and not like it. But now that I've heard it a few times, I can appreciate it on its own terms, even while still preferring the original version. I guess, in a way, this is a more intimate recording of it, and that's not a bad thing at all. "Hold On Magnolia" closes with:

"Hold on Magnolia, I know what a true friend you’ve been
In my life I have had my doubts
But tonight I think I’ve worked it out with all of them
Hold on Magnolia to the thunder and the rain
To the lightning that has just signed my name to the bottom line
Hold on Magnolia, I hear that lonesome whistle whine
Hold on Magnolia
I think its almost time"

The only completely new song on the CD, "Trouble In Mind," takes the signature Molina depression to a new level, as the lyrics finally broach the subject of suicide as a response to life's hardships. I've typically found some element of hope in even the most dire MEC tracks before, and in this case it's up to Groth, Schreiner, and friends to pull off that trick, which they do. The music more than makes up for the lyrical heartache, providing the sort of foundation for it that has you humming happily along, oblivious to the subject matter. If you listen to the words, though, you'll hear:

"Trouble in mind, I'm blue
But I won't be blue always
You know the sun is gonna shine
In my back door someday
I'm gonna lay my head
On some lonesome railroad line
Gonna let that big eight hundred
Satisfy this mind of mine
Trouble in mind, I'm blue
My heart is sinkin' low
You know I ain't had so much trouble
In my life before"

So Sun Session, while merely an appetizer, is still very solid, for every one of its meager fifteen minutes. And if, as the claim goes, all four of these songs were recorded in one day, then colour me impressed! The production quality is high, there's nothing that feels the least bit rushed, and even simply getting "Memphis Moon" so perfect in a day would've seemed impossible to me.


Tim said...

I sometimes ask myself 'What have I done?'

That last disk sounds really good. There are a couple bands on Secretly Canadian that you should hear - particularly Vancouver's Ladyhawk.

Kimota94 aka Matt said...

Yeah, this is all totally your fault, dude! What have you done, indeed!

Tim said...

NPR session this morning. Audio not up just yet:

Kimota94 aka Matt said...

Wow, excellent link, Tim! Thanks a bunch! I definitely want to listen to the audio when it's there later today.

The only quibble I have is that the article writer didn't seem to realize that a fair bit of Sojourner had come out last year on Fading Trails (it'd be even more impressive if all 4 music discs really had contained all-new music!). But otherwise he certainly nails the gist of Sojourner, and in so many fewer words than I've been using!

Tim said...

Mattman, Do you check out the Songs:illinois Blog?

He's a bit more country than you or I, but obviously has a strong Molina based bent.

One of my current favourites is a couple posts down - The Broken Family Band from Cambridge. Funny, Ironic country-pop

'Pavement gently wrestling with Buck Owens on a carpet of ironic bullshit'

Kimota94 aka Matt said...

Amazing line from the 4th disc, that I'm listening to right now:

"The only bridge I haven't burned is the one I'm standing on"

Molina's a Dylanesque songwriter, I think.

Tim said...

Listening to the NPR samples. It is making me contemplate a purchase and a reneg on not going to the concert.

in other music news - Sept 20th to 22nd is the LOLA festival in Downtown London. Free and some of the artists are going to be top notch.