Didn't It Rain is Jason Molina's first perfect record. Recorded live in a single room, with no overdubs and musicians creating their parts on the fly, the overall approach to the recording was nothing new for Molina. But something in the air and execution of Didn't It Rain clearly sets it apart from his existing body of work. His albums had always been full of space, but never had Molina sculpted the space as masterfully as he does on Didn't It Rain. Perhaps it is that Molina entered the session with fully written songs that allowed this emboldened confidence in chance. The creaks and scraping of strings are all part of the Didn't It Rain choir. So when Molina hoots for another chorus during the album's eponymous opening gambit, it feels less an off-the-cuff call, and more an essential piece of the tone and structure. Midway through the same song, that which takes its name from a traditional piece popularized by Mahalia Jackson, we hear the long, low woosh of a passing bus. Distant traffic has forever been a trope of lo-fi, but here, it is a pristine woosh. The highest of fidelity and sure of purpose. The same can be said for Molina's always remarkable voice, here settling into a matured, assured, and subtly lowered tenor. It all adds up to something near in mood to Neil Young's song "On The Beach," and maybe even Boz Scagg's 1969 self-titled album laid to tape at the legendary Muscle Shoals studio.
Didn't It Rain is an ode to the Midwest Rust Belt under which Molina was born and Molina's newfound Chicago home. When we move to a new place, we must truly confront all our own weaknesses and strengths, and Molina puts that all on the table with this one. The album's triple-threat center pieces come by way of "Ring The Bell," "Cross The Road, Molina," and "Blue Factory Flame." Strung together, they present clearly Molina's specific set of mythological symbols that had been forming on previous recordings. It is as heady a middle section as I can recall. But the journey across these three songs -- with their circling serpents, their neon-flame wreathed moons, their swinging blades, their debilitating emptiness -- also feels like a cleansing, a catharsis, a sort of primal therapy.
While demo'd and recorded months before the events of 9/11, Didn't It Rain does seem to somehow consider the mood of the time. It's surely an album about setting roots, but it also offers a moment of solace in a time of overwhelming uncertainty. Here, Molina's now well-known battle with depression aligns with an entire nation's moment of depression. While even more cryptic and spartan, Didn't It Rain's imagery and themes can be poetically linked to another 2002 Chicago-rooted album that tapped into the post-9/11 psyche, Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
This expanded reissue presents Molina's home demos of the record, eight previously unreleased tracks, complete with a distant playground full of children chiming in the background for a few songs. The glorious juxtaposition of Molina's songs' desolation and the blissful playing of children is about as haunting as it gets, friends.