Consider the collective catalogs of these two prolific masters of the new American folk songcraft: Magnolia Electric Co., Centro-matic, Songs: Ohia, South San Gabriel. Now, let’s just be honest. A little bit of artistic ego and one-upsmanship can serve a greater purpose. In this collaboration between Jason Molina and Will Johnson, each seem to hold the other’s talents to the fire and elevate both performance and creativity. In the friendly sharing of ideas, Molina and Johnson become two poets’ poets in a workshop to craft a singular, searing elegy.
Each artist’s familiar aesthetics and production styles find a new, intriguing middle ground on Molina and Johnson. Molina’s documentarian, record-the-room-as-it-is ethos finds a home in Johnson’s subtle atmospherics and production tweaks; and Molina’s powerful tenor croon finds a fitting dance partner in Johnson’s equally moving soft-gravel vox. While the individual performances from each are stunning in their own right, the musical mind meld that was captured is absolutely the occasion it should be. It was magic and, thankfully, captured for all of us to relive and enjoy.
Will Johnson approached Jason Molina at the merch table following a Magnolia Electric Co. Austin, TX show in September 2007, where they engaged in a conversation about hats — favorite types and what’s appropriate for the stage — and, of course, pumpkins. Numbers were exchanged on tattered napkins. Contact was made within a week, and a straight face agreement to co-conspire was made.
Five months later to the day, having loaded all their musical equipment into Argyle, Texas’ Echolab studio, the two were in Johnson’s truck headed for downtown Denton where they picked up the necessities of a recording session: food, beer, a BB gun and “lots of extra BBs.”
“We were basically ready,” Johnson said. “For ten days we wrote, co-wrote, workshopped, complimented, scrutinized, drank, invited friends to come play music, smoked, made lots of notes and drawings, drank a little more and shot the BB gun off the back porch when we just needed some time and space. In the throes of all this, our record was made in the late February sun.”