Does anyone else miss Jason Molina with their whole, entire aching heart?
Posthumous reissues like this one generally don’t help much in softening that ache, but they do serve as a reminder of Molina’s genius, which is nearly unparalleled in the 21st century songwriters’ canon—he sits on a tall hill next to the Leonard Cohens and Bob Dylans of the world. This box set reissue of The Lioness, released late last month and contains lost songs, liner notes written by Molina’s friends and collaborators and other memorabilia, is a deliberate homage to the late artist’s life and music.
The songs from the Lioness sessions, which were recorded just shy of the new millennium and originally released in 2000, capture a moment in his life so rosy with newfound love, you’ll wonder how this wonderstruck Molina is the same one who later tackled burdensome grief as Magnolia Electric Co. But, on the new, never-before-heard outtakes from the Lioness sessions, he is more rooted in life’s ups and downs. He does the work of a priest—blessing love, bestowing wisdom for braving life and making sense of death.
“Being in love means you are completely broken then put back together.” It’s here, on the beautifully candid and ooey-gooey love song “Being in Love,” where Molina ponders what it means to have a lover for life. In his case, it was a new relationship with the woman who would eventually become his wife. It’s important to note that Molina was 26 when he wrote the song: Still a young man, his view on love was, maybe for the first time, anti-cynical. It’s been five years since Molina’s death, which makes the following lyrics from “Being in Love” even tougher to swallow: “What’s left after that’s all gone I hope to never learn / But if you stick with me you can help me”
The first nine tracks, though low-lying and moody at times, carry on in much the same way: They explore love in Molina’s classically earnest style, employing sparse organ and smooth, southern-rock guitar. The thing that’s most special about this reissue, though, is where the Love melts into the Work, as on the 11 newly released songs, seven of which are from the Lioness sessions recorded in Scotland and four from the Lissy sessions, which happened a few days before the Lioness sessions with Molina’s friend James Tugwell in London. Where The Lioness prides itself on understanding the fruits (and sometimes regrets) of love, the Love & Work counterpart speaks to exhaustion and jadedness. If love is a high point and death is a low point, work—the stuff that comes in the middle—is Molina’s focus here. It’s in the titles: Tracks like “It Gets Harder Over Time,” “On My Way Home” and “Neighbors Of Our Age” are about the stuff, the dirt and the muck of life. On the latter, Molina muses that there are “fugitive customs like grieving” to help us muddle through. Later, on “Velvet Marching Band” he sings, “Something is solving the stress.” When life (and work) become too much to handle, that something else feeds your soul. Molina knows that it’s love, and he articulates it earnestly, never once slipping into cliche territory. He doesn’t candy-coat, either: On “I Promise Not To Quit,” Molina admits that love isn’t always permanent, at least not “without working hard for it.”
The Lioness, as well as these outtakes, showcase a Jason Molina rising. His ability to balance dark themes of doom and despair with the warm but complicated matters of the heart was fully realized on this album. He would go on to write music like this for 13 more years, but, now, five years after his death, that doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time. Molina knew that life was complicated, but his music has a way of making it easier to understand.
Hear Magnolia Electric Co.’s 2009 Daytrotter Session below: