Well, this one was a hard one to review. Not because it’s a bad album. Not at all. The reason is that Jason Molina‘s untimely passing was one of those haymakers life knocks you out with. I know some people say it’s ridiculous to be crestfallen after someone you never personally met passes away but still it hurts.
That’s a discussion for another day, I guess. We are talking about this magnificent double album, Farewell Transmission, a true labour of love. No matter how much you think you love Jason Molina‘s entire catalog, it’s safe to say that it pales to the love these artists have poured over in each of these tracks.
Now, it’ll be impossible (and a boring read) to cover every single track in detail, so I’ll talk about a few top choices and let you discover the other fantastic tracks. The main attractor of this album could be My Morning Jacket as it’s the most recognizable name Joe Q. Public could see and their cover of ‘Farewell Transmission’ is more on the flavour of Jim James‘ recent dreamy album, with a sauntering pace that sometimes jogs with James‘ voice.
Still, there’s so much to discover here. Squares‘ ‘Get out get out get out’ has an inherent urgency that smoulders until it finds a weak spot in the ground and erupts violently. Enemy Planes takes a cue from Depeche Mode‘s ULTRA era and gives a darker shade of paint to ‘Lioness’, making it more of a “in the shadows” style of menace. Murder by Death use their Gothic Southern style to give ‘7th street wonderland’ a magnificent sound that expands like open range fields tinted mauve and crimson by the setting sun. Sarah Jaffe‘s melancholic piano-driven take on ‘Alone with the owl’ is sheer poetry and the introspective rendition of ‘I’ve been riding with the ghost’ by Fathom Lane closes the first disc in a slow fade to black manner.
Electric Memorial Company present two different moods perfectly: disc 1’s ‘Arm in Arm’ feeling slightly upbeat, careening through stormy skies, while the definitely downbeat but still peppy ‘Trouble in Mind (Fade to Blue)’ is a track that perfectly kickstarts disc 2. Then in comes what is personally my fave track from this compilation : Matt Bauer & Heather McEntire gut wrenching, haunting rendition of ‘I can not have seen the light.’ The sparse music, akin to a ghost light in an empty theatre sets a chilling atmosphere that only breaks when Bauer and McEntire‘s vocals harmonise that hard hitting chorus. And I quote: “I can’t remember what comes first / Is it the hurt / Or knowing that it hurts?”
Nathan Salsburg & Joan Shelley offer their commiserations with ‘White Sulfur’, with the gentle fingerpicking sometimes speaking louder than the vocals. Viking Moses offers another take on ‘Lioness’, much stripped down than the gorgeous Enemy Planes one, and wouldn’t you know? It also works: it still is a beast skulking in the dark and the fact that you can’t see it is what makes it scarier. Communist Daughter give ‘Hold on Magnolia’ a solemn spin, steadfastly going into Slowcore territory without a visa nor a care in the world. It’s another quiet track that could lead to a healthy tearjerker moment but somehow it starts to lift; the storm clouds start to spread apart and sunshine starts to coyly sneak through. That’s where Jonny James & The Hall of Fames break through and furiously wave goodbye to Mr. Molina in a rocking Americana cover of ‘John Henry Split My heart’. You can almost feel driving alone in a vast road through the desert, just after the rain stopped and the air is still fresh.
It is a real shame that Jason Molina never got the kudos he rightfully deserved during his lifetime but judging by his solid fandom and the talent contained in this two disc tribute, the darkness feels a little less lonesome right now…
Words: Sam J. Valdés López