When musician Jason Molina died, music blogger April Wolfe thought she owed it to their mutual West Virginia roots to commemorate him.
You may or may not know anything about Jason Molina, the singer-songwriter who died in 2013 at 39. He often performed as Songs: Ohia, then with a band, Magnolia Electric Co. He was a cult figure in the indie music scene, with a tight-knit group of fans who fiercely love his stark, dark music, and an enviable reputation among other musicians—his was the type of music that inspired respect from fellow artists.
Jason was raised outside of Cleveland but came to the Mountain State often as a child to visit his family, who lived in the Beckley area. It’s said that he wrote his first album, Songs: Ohia, in his grandmother’s basement here. And April Wolfe, who lives in Ripley and runs the blog, Common Folk Music, sees a connection between Jason’s music and the sounds and culture of Appalachia. “Jason wrote as an outsider and for the outsider,” April says. “West Virginia has always been an outsider, because our culture is completely different from the rest of the country. There’s something of that in his songs. And the music is dark but not depressing—often it feels very lonely and secluded, and melancholy. A lot of this is the same kind of music that you would hear traditionally in the mountains of Appalachia.”
Jason with the band Magnolia Electric Co. Photographed by Will Claytor.
That connection, plus the personal connection she has with Jason’s music, inspired April to co-produce a tribute album to Jason this year. That album, Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, was released in January. It highlights some of Jason’s best work with a selection of 27 songs, all covered by popular indie musicians who were in some way connected with him, either by a songwriting credit, a tour, or a friendship. The title track, a melancholy saunter of a song, gets an appropriately bold treatment from My Morning Jacket. Artists Sarah Jaffe, Squares, Wooden Wand, and Catherine Irwin, also contributed tracks. The covers they produced remain in line with Jason’s original vision—perhaps a testament of the respect they all have for him. “The artists really handled the songs with reverence,” April says. “They didn’t really go too far off of the original path, and if they did change things the true essence of the songs is still there.”
The album is especially important because Jason’s former bandmates came together, under the name Memorial Electric Company, to record a new song, “Arm in Arm,” and a live favorite of Jason’s that he never recorded, “Trouble in Mind (Fade to Blue).” “That really propelled the album,” April says.
The album was released through the nonprofit music label Rock the Cause. Proceeds are being split between Jason’s family and MusiCares, a nonprofit for artists dealing with depression and addiction. Buy it on Amazon or iTunes.