Goshen Electric Co. – The Gray Tower

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Goshen Electric Co. are Timothy Showalter of Strand of Oaks plus one incarnation of Jason Molina’s backing band during the Magnolia Electric Co. era. They’ve just recorded a three-track EP and ‘The Gray Tower’ is the first track. They’ve also embarked on a short European tour. They were at the Tivoli Theatre in Dublin on Tuesday. Outside, it was a glorious evening. Beautiful. Clear. Inside, it was glorious too. Unofficial MC for the evening was guitarist Jason Groth. There were readings by Erin Osman from her biography of Molina. There was a guest appearance from the great Adrian Crowley. And the set list was more a wish list of Molina songs, beginning with ‘Farewell Transmission’, and ending with ‘Lioness’.

‘The Gray Tower’ is a Jason Molina song. There’s a demo version on the deluxe edition of Didn’t It Rain and a 7″ version that can now be found on the Journey On singles collection. Showalter and Co. have beefed the song up, giving it the Trials and Errors treatment. They’ve taken away some of the vulnerability of the original version, but they’ve also turned it into another one of the best songs that Neil Young never wrote. So, that’s absolutely fine.

In the video, Showalter is in full-on HEAL or Hard Love mode, tattoos everywhere, biceps bulging. On stage the other night, though, he was completely covered up, wearing a velvet smoking jacket and fedora. He was also very respectful, being careful to make sure that this was not a show about him, but Molina. Showalter himself is a big Molina fan. On HEAL, which was released not long after Molina died, he recorded a song called ‘JM’. The band played it on Tuesday and it was very moving. “Now it’s hard to hear you sing, the crow has lost his wings, But I still got your sweet tunes to play”.

Showalter isn’t the only artist to have covered Molina. Glen Hansard has too. In fact, Erin Osman mentioned him in dispatches on the night. In 2015 he released five Molina songs under the title It Was Triumph We Once Proposed. It includes a glorious version of ‘Farewell Transmission’ as well as a lovely cover of ‘Being in Love’. The last words should go to Jason Molina himself. “We are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn, What’s left after that’s all gone I hope to never learn, But if you stick with me you can help me, I’m sure we’ll find new things to burn, Cause we are proof that the heart is a risky fuel to burn”.

Big Red Machine

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Where can you get a decent Bon Iver album these days? The answer is Big Red Machine. The most recent Justin Vernon album, 22, A Million, was the musical equivalent of a work by Jackson Pollock. Notes, electronic twiddles, autotuned vocals, and strange fonts were all thrown against the studio wall in the hope that the listener would see the pattern the artist was trying to make. Sometimes that’s genius. Sometimes it’s just plain messy. Maybe 22, A Million was trying to push back the very boundaries of music. If so, then for fans of Emma, Blood Bank, and S/T at least, it didn’t so much push them back as run them over in a monster truck. Which is why Big Red Machine is so welcome. BRM is a partnership between Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National. They first teamed up in 2009 for the song of the same name on the Dark Was The Night charity record. Now, they’ve fleshed out their contributions to album length. The two complement each other very well. There’s a sense that Dessner can just about keep in check Vernon’s new-found instinct to digitally burble and he does so to good effect. And then there are some truly sublime moments. The highlight is ‘People Lullaby’, which is built on a simply melody that is more than worthy of The National. But on top Vernon sings beautifully, “Has me all borderline – re-erased”. In a way, a certain Bon Iver is no more. But there’s always Big Red Machine. And that’s fine for now.