Magnolia Electric Co. Hard to Love a Man EP

[Secretly Canadian; 2005]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: americana, classic rock, unabashedly roarin’ alt-country
Others: Songs: Ohia, Neil Young/Crazy Horse, Palace, Son Volt

This year, Jason Molina gave his new band name its proper debut with the What Comes After the Blues LP. The record was, overall, just okay in my estimation; it's got a few catchy tunes, rarely drags, but just seems a bit flat, as though Molina was trying too hard to create a band to fit a certain aesthetic he'd imagined beforehand. The arrangements on What Comes After the Blues took a lot of heat for their overstuffed quality. The problem may have been Molina's history; from someone who'd produced records that, until the Songs:Ohia swan song Magnolia Electric Company, rarely utilized more than three instruments, Magnolia Electric Co. has so far made me long for those halcyon Ohia days of yore.

But the transformation's come, so let's evaluate this single for WCATB. "Hard to Love a Man," a mournful dirge, seems like a strange choice for the format, given the presence of many catchier, rockier numbers like "Hammer Down" and "Don't This Look Like the Dark" on the source album. "Hard to Love a Man" is packaged with three b-sides and a cover of the Warren Zevon tune "Werewolves of London," which gets a disappointingly sober reading. It's a great song and hard not to enjoy, but the Magnolia Electric take on it, frankly, does away with all the fun. The best songs here are "Doing Something Wrong," which, with a little less '70s in it, could fit on Didn't It Rain, and "31 Seasons in the Minor Leagues," which makes good use of its watery Hammond line.

The troubling thing about Hard to Love a Man is that it shows Magnolia Electric's main weakness: uniformity. Given the EP format's flexibility, one might think that the band would throw some curveballs with their b-sides; instead, we get songs that sound almost exactly like the single. Even the cover. Jason, I still love you, but keep this one -- I'll listen to Trials and Errors instead.

1. Hard to Love a Man
2. Bowery
3. Doing Something Wrong
4. 31 Seasons in the Minor Leagues
5. Werewolves of London