Magnolia Electric Co., "Josephine"
Given Magnolia Electric Co. singer/guitarist Jason Molina's prolific presence in country-rock during the past decade, "Josephine," his first proper album in three years, feels like the end of a long drought. Backed by a fine team of multi-instrumentalists, Molina delivers a harrowing set of songs with short running times and minimalist arrangements. "Map of the Falling Sky" is a slow, defeated rocker with jagged guitar strumming, while "The Rock of Ages" is a hymn-like ode to secluded love that hinges on a twinkling piano riff. Molina's steely voice remains front and center, while he keeps guitar solos and gaudy percussion to a minimum-the lean approach keeps the band focused on the spare tone it wants to capture. "Josephine" may not be as instantly lovable as Molina's lighter fare, but his vocal tenacity and restrained songwriting reward repeated listens and signify a welcome return. -Jason S. Lipshutz