While stories about Jason Molina are reaching wider audiences these days, the music of this prolific singer is also finally earning the attention it deserves. Since last year, Secretly Canadian has been reissuing Molina’s best and rarest releases in timely, thoughtfully curated packages. Last year saw the 10th anniversary edition of Molina’s most accessible and successful Songs: Ohia LP, Magnolia Electric Co., and a deep cut of the 1997 EP Hecla & Griper. Earlier this year, the label collated an exceptional box set called Journey On: Collected Singles. Now Didn’t It Rain, Molina’s 2002 penultimate album labeled as Songs: Ohia, receives the deluxe reissue treatment with eight previously unreleased tracks and home demos.
Molina, an Ohio-born songwriter, released an unfathomable amount of music under his own name and Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. monikers in his 15 years of recording cut short due to complications from alcoholism. His genius manifests in both his ability to craft seemingly simple melodies that belie complex musical ambiances, as well as his achingly honest tales of the realest of struggles. While many consider Didn’t It Rain the most complete album of Molina’s career in any group, it also vividly and artistically encapsulates his anxieties; it foreshadows that which caused his weary body to give up at just 39 years old.
The bonus material on this Didn’t It Rain reissue exposes Molina’s depression in even starker musicality than the original studio recordings. While the versions of “Spectral Alphabet” and “The Gray Tour” (“Working Title: Waiting Its Whole Life”) were later reworked for future releases, the demos of songs that ultimately comprised Didn’t It Rain give greater insight and context to record. In particular, the demo of “Didn’t It Rain” ironically (and presumably unintentionally) pits Molina’s tortured, sometimes tenuous voice against the voices of children playing. While their hollers and cheers seem to illustrate the idyllic innocence of friendship bracelets and playground promises, Molina sings his own version of those truths: “I’m gonna help you how I can / if you see me struggle all night / and give me a hand cause I’m in need I’ll call you friend indeed.” Now, that juxtaposition just feels physically agitating and vaguely nostalgic. But it’s the demo of “Blue Chicago Moon,” one of the most heart-wrenching songs Molina ever penned, that delivers the ultimate blow. While the studio version cautiously fills spaces with subtle snare rattling, a trudging bass line and Jennie Benford’s ethereal harmonies, this demo showcases Molina with just an electric guitar as he tries to convince himself or us that “you are not helpless” in the face of space’s loneliness and endless depression.
Twelve years after its original release, Didn’t It Rain still feels comforting and relevant. It is not a record of solutions; there are no answers layered in between Molina’s metaphors or his band’s sparse instrumental interplay. But there is consolation in these tracks—in Molina’s voice—pleading with you to “try to see the light of goodness” as the rain pours and the bell rings and the flame roars and the blue moon rises. Hope may be scarce throughout Didn’t It Rain, but the greatest gift of this reissue is the hope that Jason Molina’s music will continue to be rediscovered, reevaluated and played repeatedly.