Jason Molina’s voice was a bleakly comforting one, his music covering every excruciating detail of heartache. When he finally succumbed to alcoholism and passed away two years ago at the age of 39, it wasn’t necessarily a shock. Still, it was a brutal blow to anyone who ever fell in love with a Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co. record. It’s only fitting that a fan would step up to pay homage to the songwriter.
A decade before Glen Hansard became an Academy Award-winning songwriter, he was so enamored with Songs: Ohia’s debut 7″, Nor Cease Thou Never Now, that he invited Molina to Dublin. The two forged a friendship that would extend over their careers. On It Was Triumph We Once Proposed…Songs of Jason Molina, Hansard displays just how deep his affinity for his friend’s music runs. Each of the five songs on the EP is drastically rearranged from its original version; however, Hansard still keeps within the confines of Molina’s aesthetic. Part of this can be attributed to his backing band of musicians who played with Molina during his Songs: Ohia days.
Opener “Being in Love” is transformed from a sparse ballad to a heavyhearted scorcher that would fit nicely on Molina’s opus, The Magnolia Electric Co. Inversely, “Farewell Transmission”, perhaps his most beloved track, is stripped of its crunchy electric guitar twang and howling vocals in favor of gentle fingerpicking and whisper-singing. It’s not that Hansard isn’t up to the task of screaming (as we’ve heard many times with The Frames), but it shows he has a remarkable sense of restraint and tact. It calls back to the hushed atmosphere of Didn’t It Rain while still retaining the song’s damning presence.
In many ways, this is Hansard’s final fan letter. Each song feels like a poignantly delivered eulogy for a harrowing life. “Hold on Magnolia” may be the saddest of Molina’s many sad songs, but hearing Hansard sing these words when we know Molina never will again is devastating. It feels like one last plea when Hansard coos, “No one should have to be that strong/ But if you’re stubborn like me/ I know what you’re trying to be.”
The bright side at the end is that Molina’s voice lives on in his music. Artists like Hansard know just how important it is to preserve his work. As Molina declared on “Farewell Transmission”: “I will be gone, but not forever.”
Essential Tracks: “Being in Love”, “Hold on Magnolia”, and “Farewell Transmission”