Goshen Electric Co. happened both all at once and gradually: an electrifying culmination of Tim Showalter’s nearly two decades-long love affair with Jason Molina’s craft, and just one half-day spent in the recording studio with the members of Magnolia Electric Co.
Better known as Strand of Oaks, Showalter’s reverence of Molina’s music made itself known first in the sprawling, aching centerpiece of 2014’s HEAL, “JM.” Now, Showalter’s turn at the helm of Magnolia Electric Co. (Mike Benner, Jason Evans Groth, Mikey Kapinus, Mark Rice, Peter Schreiner) comes ahead of the Goshen, In. native’s Memorial Electric Co. European tour.
“It’s strange for me to sing his words,” Showalter says. “I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, but I had to prepare myself to sing these lyrics – when I was having terrible times in my life at certain points, it was those lyrics that came on.”
The resulting 7-in. captures the eerie dichotomy of two of Molina’s deeper cuts, reimagining “The Gray Tower,” a 2002 single, and “Ring the Bell,” which appeared on both Songs: Ohia Didn’t It Rain (2002) and Magnolia Electric Co.’s Trials & Errors (2005). It’s a testament to the tightness of Magnolia Electric Co.’s musicianship, and the careful tenderness that comes with stepping into the shoes of a musical hero, wanting to both re-invent and honor the formative music of one’s youth.
Goshen Electric. Co’s version of “The Gray Tower” finds the prophetic darkness of the original feeling startled, like being jolted awake. Showalter set out to capture the original’s soaring chorus and beautiful melody with the power of a full band. Here, Showalter taps into the visual elements he finds in Molina’s music, envisioning it as a graphic novel set against a motif of looming darkness: a world populated by crows, by omens, by smog and dark presences bearing down – and, in spite of that, a glimmer of hopefulness flitting in and out.
Showalter explains, “Jason’s lyrics were darkly heroic, trying to fight against it. Just the word ‘try’ – whenever he says ‘try,’ it’s just magic to me.”
“Ring the Bell,” recorded in its first take, features a roaring guitar line butting against its steady drumbeat, a twinge of psychedelia, thrums with – in Showalter’s own words – “pure vibe.” Showalter’s wail recalls Molina’s somber, choir-boy croon, as if roughened with sandpaper. Decades later, the intense, unflinching urgency of Molina’s songwriting endures.
“There was such an intimate relationship with his music – it felt a lot deeper than just liking a song,” Showalter says, simply. “You live in these songs.”