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Magnolia Electric Co.: Josephine (Secretly Canadian) 

Josephine finds Jason Molina bound by regret and fits of restless isolation, staring down his ghosts while forging a path of escape through deep shadows and the faraway horizon.

The latest album from Magnolia Electric Co. is a somber and deeply evocative work, drenched in images of open sky, sunsets and the tragedy of those left behind.

Molina's greatest gift as a songwriter is to create lyrics that align perfectly—song by song—with the emotional core of his band's sound. From the soft piano that opens "O! Grace" to the twangy Dobro on "Whip-Poor-Will" to the flighty organ of "Little Sad Eyes," the songs sound like a solemn march across the high plains, and when the lyrics have a nightbird calling, you can just about hear it.

Explicitly in "Hope Dies Last" and more subtly in "Shenandoah," Molina sings of failure and an end-of-the-rope longing. It's a loneliness to match the pale high moon, and one that "only the strongest hearts" can outlast. "The only bridge I haven't burned is the one I'm standing on," Molina sings in "Shiloh," a road song in which the burning ghost weeps for nothing—and for everything.

The name Josephine pops up in two songs besides the title track, and each time, it's an opaque invocation, never revealing if Josephine is the hope or the tragedy, the regret or the mercy, the ghost or the living. And in that, Molina has made his cry a universal one.

More by Eric Swedlund

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