Magnolia Electric Co with the Sea Snakes and Jon Rae & The River at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West), Saturday (October 2). $12, advance $10.50. 416-598-4753.
Jason Molina might not yet have the cult mystique of Will Oldham, the evangelical eccentricity of Sam Bush or the formidable facial hair of My Morning Jacket, but the idea generator for the Magnolia Electric Co has proven himself most prodigiously talented songwriting force within the so-called "beardfolk" movement.
And the quietly unassuming Molina also happens to be one of the most prolific of the bunch. Changing the name of his band from Songs: Ohia, along with his collaborators, only seems to have boosted his output.
The as-yet-untitled studio follow-up to their Pyramid Electric Co album, released back in January, is already finished and set for release in April 2005. But as a stopgap, Molina and crew have a new 10-track live recording, Trials And Errors, for sale at select dates on the current tour.
As with Songs: Ohia's Mi Sei Apparso Come Un Fantasma (Paper Cup), recorded live in Modeno, Italy, in September 2000, the new Trials And Errors double LP eschews the familiar fan favourites and focuses instead on previously unreleased songs, only one of which, Dark Don't Hide It, will appear on the forthcoming studio album.
Molina never intended to make a live recording in Italy.
"But these people with incredible gear offered to record us and wound up documenting two shows in which almost everything we played hadn't been released before," explains Molina from his Indiana home. "We were so happy with the recording quality and the performances that we decided to just release them instead of going into a studio to redo that material."
A similar thing happened on a recent tour. Someone offered to record a show professionally, and the band ended up doing a lot of material that hadn't been released.
"Trials And Errors is a totally unedited document of what we do onstage, with all the stuff between songs - the tuning, applause, whatever - left exactly as it happened. We didn't plan to do any covers, but there are some small pieces of other songs that appeared spontaneously. Sometimes when the band gets quiet, a melody or chord change will remind me of another song, and I'll throw in a line or two if it seems relevant."
Conspicuously absent are the songs associated with Hank Williams Sr. that Molina has been known to break into at his shows. Evidently, Hank's hymn to joyful redemption, I Saw The Light, is an important touchstone and a key inspiration for Molina.
"For some reason, I found myself singing that song at some point during each show of the last tour. The more I got into it, the more I discovered.
"When you play traditional music, you realize that there are some melodies that have been used 500 times in different songs, and certain bunches of words that get reused over and over again. So far I've come across 10 different traditional songs that have a lot in common with that Hank Sr. tune.
"I haven't done any serious research on Hank's circle of songwriters, which included Leon Payne and Fred Rose, but there seems to have been a lot of, er, 'editing' going on. To what degree that editing constitutes writing or rewriting I can't say, but a song like Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain (credited to Fred Rose) is a timeless classic no matter who wrote what."
For the new Magnolia Electric Co recording, Molina did some Hank Williams-style editing of his own, and in the process came up with an intriguing album concept.
"While writing songs for the new album, I began concentrating on the mood and theme of I Saw The Light. Eventually, we wound up with an album's worth of songs, each loosely based on I Saw The Light. But we really didn't set out to make a concept record, honest!"