There are no shortages of Jason Molina tributes worth a listen. Given that he died of complications of alcoholism, such tributes tend to either emphasize the apocalyptic content of his songs as a kind of in-process suicide note or go the other way and play up aspects of his songs that bear witness to a stubborn and against-the-odds act of survival.
The key to two new covers’ success, though, is that where other tributes have often stemmed from their creator’s personal relationship to Molina – relationships that tended to color the songs as an argument about their creator – Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield came to this project out of a shared love for the songs themselves. The result is two faithful but interpolated duets, sung in the style of something like “Islands in the Stream.”
In Molina’s most iconic and seemingly prophetic song, “Farewell Transmission,” Morby and Crutchfield take gender-determined turns with “now we’ll all be brothers of/ the fossil fire of the sun/ now we’ll all be sisters of/ the fossil blood of the moon” in such a way that they sound like surviving members of a cult that worships the ghost-white owl featured in so much of Molina’s work (including these songs’ cover art). The repeated vows to “whatever, I’ll try” become the stuff of initiation. Likewise, in their rambunctiously gloomy rendition of “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” they sound like acolytes doing their best with the crumpled and discarded gospels of a lost prophet.
Morby’s laudanum vocals pair beautifully with Crutchfield’s brash but hyper-controlled upper register. The result is two songs that are at once despairing, triumphant, and, at times, accusatory, especially when it comes to lyrics about a “you” that codes as the ghost owl/Molina: “now death is going to hold us up in a mirror/ and say we’re so much alike we must be brothers.” These are damned near perfect covers, transforming confessional songs of a lost soul into church hymns for those of us who go on living the kind of life that’s “no better off if it’s got the map or if it’s lost.”
Hear more Jason Molina covers – including a review of Glen Hansard’s recent tribute album – here.