Given the rustic coating on his latest album, it wouldn't have been surprising to see Jason Molina climb onto the Black Cat's Backstage on Monday night wearing overalls, a John Deere cap and a full beard.
But Molina has little use for disingenuous decoration. His heartbroken blue-collar landscapes -- whether performed solo or with his current outfit, Magnolia Electric Co. -- are more the product of elegiac invention than years in the freight yards.
The most muscular band Molina has ever assembled, Magnolia rode the crazy horses of Jason Groth's lead guitar and Mike Brenner's lap steel, both of which stabbed into the spaces between Molina's lilting vocal lines. Working within the country-rock boundaries established by acts such as Neil Young, Son Volt, the Byrds and Palace, such songs as "The Dark Don't Hide It," "Leave the City" and "Hammer Down" were rich and immediate.
Part of a typically dense tour (nine dates in Texas alone), Magnolia offered moments of relatively quiet desperation ("No Moon on the Water") as well as craggy emotional blasts ("Just Be Simple"), but the hour-long set never strayed far from gritty.
Molina's lyrical motifs of ghosts, broken hearts, sickness and North Stars popped up in nearly every song, but it was just that kind of dogged repetition that lent the set its plain-spoken, plaintive power.
-- Patrick Foster