Dusted Reviews

Songs: Ohia - Didn't it Rain

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Songs: Ohia

Album: Didn't it Rain

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Apr. 6, 2002

It’s taken me awhile to come around to the music that Jason Molina makes under the Songs: Ohia moniker, but with Didn’t It Rain I think he’s finally got me. The early records felt too dominated by Molina’s shaky, regional tenor – a voice too often used to explore the range of effects already mapped by Will Oldham and his various Palace projects -– and I guess that was most of the problem; Oldham had already won me into his camp, so I felt little incentive to reach for Molina’s collections of three and four minute skeletal folk songs when Viva Last Blues or Days in the Wake – records Molina seemed clearly to be coveting too – did it first and, in my opinion, did it more effectively. But beginning with scattered moments on 2000’s The Lioness and Ghost Tropic and continuing through --– building, really -– to this spring’s Didn’t It Rain, Molina has not only stepped boldly from the nagging shadow of the Palace/Oldham oeuvre, but emerged fully into a new, blue darkness, to occupy a niche infused with more poetry and earnest feeling than Oldham has lately mustered.

By this point the Oldham comparisons seem completely irrelevant. Instead, on Didn’t It Rain, Molina boldly and confidently takes on the role of the bard of James Wright’s Ohio and Carl Sandburg’s Chicago – the type of voice we hear sadly little from anymore, while the rust belt nevertheless continues its slow and steady oxidation. “Two Blue Lights”, the album’s true centerpiece, is built on a brooding bass line and snare kick, contemplative guitar notes wandering at will, and its eight minute twenty-nine second crawl beneath your skin is alone worth the price of the record. Together with the ghostly accompaniment of the Pinetops’ Jennie Benford, Molina dreams aloud of his bones picked clean by the dusty winds of an empty street in a world littered by the refuse of blue-collar Middle America: Coleman lanterns, fishing poles, steel and iron ore, and the dull blue glow of the song’s title. “They aren’t proud colors,” Molina sings, “but they’re the true colors of my home.” There’s a sad magic here unexpressed since the passing of James Wright. Wright, like Molina, had the poet’s ability to make small images – prostitutes “drying their wings” on the shores of the Ohio river across from the vinegar works ("In Response To A Rumour…"), high school football players “galloping terribly against each other’s bodies ("Autumn Begins…") – conjure whole, crumbling worlds, both stranding and entrancing their most thoughtful of occupants. Molina unlike Wright, however, has the luxury of a subdued, haunting instrumentation to makes his images sing.

In one of the record’s other highlights, “Blue Chicago Moon”, an unexpected shift to a major key (at the same thoughtfully plodding pace) complements Molina’s vocals, which bend and wrap around the notes mournfully. With Bedford’s voice again unfolding behind him – crawling eerily up the scale in the kind of shivering harmony I haven’t heard since the early Freakwater records – Molina sings about overcoming an “endless, endless, endless, endless, endless depression," every “endless” piercing the beat like moonlight through a moving boxcar. “Space is loneliness,” he sings, and it’s clear that Molina’s not evoking the tragedy of a single man’s relationship to a single other person, but instead echoing one of the great unspoken truths at the center of American history and American life. Over his past few records Molina has increased the length of his songs dramatically, and his scope has followed suit. Didn’t it Rain proves he’s got the stuff to pull it off.

By Nathan Hogan

Read More

View all articles by Nathan Hogan

Find out more about Secretly Canadian

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.