‘It Was Triumph We Once Proposed…Songs of Jason Molina’ is a memorial album by former Swell Season frontman, crooner/songwriter Glen Hansard, in tribute to his friend Jason Molina. The tribute features some of the musicians who played on Molina’s 2003 ‘Magnolia Electric Co’ album. Hansard commits his guitar playing with reverence to the powerful organ driven original material.
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This is a really lovely release, but mainly, it’s a relief: there have been a plethora of artists queuing up to cover Jason Molina’s beautiful, downtrodden folk songs since his death, and few of them have fared well, offering renditions that either stretched too wide of the mark (see Jim James’ travesty) or came too close. The best tributes to Molina of late have been originally penned tunes about his impact: Strand of Oaks offered us to earth-scorched “JM”, and Rivulets “Ride On, Molina”, a lazily strummed song after the late songwriter’s slow-burning heart. Glen Hansard’s ‘It Was Triumph We Once Proposed’ is to my mind the first successful take on Molina’s actual material, offering different aspects of introspection to his country twang.
“Farewell Transmission” is perhaps Molina’s best song, and Hansard’s version respects that, merely taking the percussive sting out of it, using its intense riff way less and introducing a sweet bit of picking. It’s got the same strands of country, and climaxes a little later, making for a cover that specifically reminds us of why we love and miss Molina and his music. His cover of the lethargic, repetitive “Hold On Magnolia” does a similar job; it sounds nice, and it makes me want to listen to ‘Magnolia Electric Co.’ a lot.
Where Hansard is most impressive is on his covers of Molina’s early work: he takes on “Vanquisher”, which is the first song released on the first Songs: Ohia album, and makes all of its grievances and anxieties heard. It has a total understanding of Molina’s quivering, anticipating vocal, which recalled Neil Young but with little of the assurance. Finally, there’s “White Sulfur”, which reminds us of a Molina that was harder to grasp: just an acoustic guitar, no hooks, alone for a live take. Hansard doesn’t so much play that character as he does empathise with it, barely plucking at the guitar before the record dies out. A beautiful tribute to alt-country’s best modern song-writer.
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