Secretly Canadian released an incredible collection of Jason Molina b-sides, demos and previously unreleased songs for Record Store Day 2013 in a gorgeous box set titled "Journey On: Collected Singles." I had the pleasure of writing the accompanying liner notes for the collection. Here's the full text.
"A voice ascended from the deflated confines of the Midwestern Rust Belt in the mid ’90s, born of a love for heavy metal but harnessed by the earthy drawl of Mid-Century Americana, dusty roots rock and iconic country songwriters. When woven with its piper’s earnest narratives of angels and devils, of glory and of mercy, of strength and of great pain, that voice was the very picture of the might of those once churning assembly lines and steel mills and the delicate flourishes of the mouth of the river that fed them.
Jason Molina of Lorain, Ohio was an artist plagued by opposing forces and Songs: Ohia was the saddled mare on which he straddled both torture and light, whether whispering solo over minimal guitar strumming or crafting enduring anthems with an evolving cast of friends and music makers. Gathered here are the charming, haunting and — much like the totality of the Songs: Ohia catalogue — elegantly disparate moments lost in the void of limited pressings and merch tables at last-minute shows Molina often booked mid-tour from payphones across the country. Throughout the band’s storied course Molina’s creative prolificacy often outran the pace and resources of pre-laptop production, which is why the 7” record became an integral component to the dynamism of Songs: Ohia.
The nearly 65-year-old format was touted early as the 45 and was marketed to young audiences with limited resources and a rabid appetite for what they’d heard on the radio. But by the time 7” culture had hit the ’90s, the formula had been turned on its head, eschewing the motivation for a hit single in favor of a steady and financially accessible churn of art for art’s sake, packaged in a diminutive disc strapping enough to bare the brunt of the feverish creative pace of the punk and indie acts burning the candle at both ends throughout the far reaches of the underground at that time. The spectrum of ravenous fans was more limited than that of the 45 era, but as a collector’s work is never finished, the work of the fringe was always in demand.
The goal of the 7”? To burn bright, to share and inspire via a portable format that artists could afford to self-produce and ship and fan kids with shallow pockets could afford to buy at basement shows and ramshackle all-ages joints — three dollars was the equivalent of two skipped high school lunches, after all. Though monetary limitations were often at the core of the 7” single, Molina knew that not everything his heart purged belonged on the studio LP, and as committed to the format as he was, he also knew when to withhold. When an LP was not possible, this was a way to quickly release virgin and largely unedited material.
It was also a way to share space with friends and collaborators, as we so often saw with the split 7” between likeminded and, at times, polar opposite creators throughout the decade. The modest platter was DIY at its core—from the pieced and patchy cover art to the low-fi sonic content—and a haven for those, like Molina, who could not help but to create, to live and to breathe, outside the realm of commercial consciousness. If ever there was an individual immune to passing trends it was Molina, and his copious, at times haphazard, early catalogue speaks volumes to his unwavering vision as he steered Songs: Ohia both as a compact singer-songwriter vehicle and as a big-rig act churning out touching and unforgettable twang-tinged anthems.
We know “Freedom Pt. 2” and “Soul” as the Nor Cease There Never Now 7” on Palace Records that, in 1996, breathed life into Songs: Ohia as we know it. Those two tracks cleared the course for the impassioned, front-and-center quaver we’d invite into our headphones over — depending how you count them — seven proper studio LPs, three EPs, and numerous singles and tour-only releases during the life of Songs: Ohia. “Cabwaylingo,” the captivating acoustic opener of the 1997 self-titled “Black Album,” memorable in its flourishes of brushed drums, meandering banjo, and of course, that voice, is resurrected here as “Vanquisher,” a haunting 1998 reimagining in which Molina convinces us that there are “fewer greater former ghosts” over gentle electric guitar lines as clear as his hushed-yet-confident oration. The beloved “Lioness” reappears with the addition of Molina collaborator and comrade Jennie Benford of Jim & Jennie And The Pinetops, lending a powerfully somber layer to “the look of the lioness to her man across the Nile.”
These are but a few of the gems mined from the caverns of the Songs: Ohia singles spanning the six years until Molina’s hushed formation of the Magnolia Electric Co. It’s here we relive his generous and honest performances, his humor, and his heart. These aren’t the maudlin ramblings so often pegged in the press, but the triumphant tales spun from the mind of an ordinary Midwestern man as goofy as he was fervent, who was able to execute an extraordinary body of work in a short amount of time.
Almost twenty years after Molina’s voice first rang out from Ohio, in this brave new world of streaming, the discussion surrounding the resurgence of vinyl rarely includes the 7”. The original and re-imagined underground aural morsels once housed in the format are now buried in digital EPs and embeddable media. The tangible, wax-fabricated evidence of a self-producing culture of creativity has given way to this modern age, but it is our hope that Jason Molina’s unabashed utterances and refusal of trend is honored across the 18 sides of this collection—a thoughtfully resurrected series of tokens to a great artist gone too soon, to hear and to hold, and to live on in those who were there and those who wish they would have been."