REVIEW: Songs:Ohia: Didn't it Rain
Songs:Ohia: Didn't it Rain [Secretly Canadian, 2002]
Three words? Long, true songs.
On each of Songs:Ohia's recordings, the band - a cast that shuffles around singer/songwriter Jason Molina - shows a different face. Hecla & Griper had angry calls, enraged wails; Ghost Tropic is all about wind between guitar-strings and in the rafters, summer phantoms; Axxess & Ace contains the passionate pleas of a man in his corner, the heartbreak of a songwriter in a dark room with a microphone. Didn't It Rain tells stories, coaxes them from chords and melodies, eking wisdom from urban folktales.
"Didn't It Rain" is a delicate opening for the album, an eight-minute ballad that sees Molina's meditations on self and sensation rise into a choral duet, male and female voices caressing each other over plucked guitar and mandolin trills. The minutes pass like a happy dream, the quiet force of the performers leaking into the music, collapsing the medium into message. With the steadiness of human breath, the song rises and falls. When Molina murmurs, "Let's bring it back, sing it one more time..." the melody crests a hill and lies sparkling in the sun, fading into the dusk.
"Didn't It Rain" is the best song on the album, but the other tracks all reinforce its spirit - from the railroad trudge of "Steve Albini's Blues" to the electric lick that opens "Ring the Bell". Molina is channelling Will Oldham more than ever; these tracks are melodically loose, with occasional - powerful - intersections of meaning and tune. Long, echoing guitar strokes bleed into acoustic finger-picking, rocky landscapes quiver under the bell of Molina's voice. "Blue Factory Flame" wanders so far into mood that it almost disappears; when the vocal coos and drum slaps revive it, it's like waking from a dream. "Two Blue Lights" - a two-minute song, and the only track that clocks at under 5:30 - is a short, unhappy blurt. Melancholy words sway under molasses guitar, evoking Damien Jurado and Johnny Cash. "Blue Chicago Rain" finally ties everything together, unravelling its moody opening into a vibrant, mournful spiral, and then blurring into silence.
"Didn't It Rain" is not the most viscerally moving of Songs:Ohia's albums, but the shift and creak of its songs is still concentrated enough to crack stone. These are songs to waft out of windows, sailing over hot summer nights, down alleys, into grates.