Striking debut solo collection from the former Lift to Experience frontman.
Mike Diver 2011-12-01
Josh T Pearson – wild-eyed, heavy-bearded frontman of the phenomenal-for-an-album (2001’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads) Denton rockers Lift to Experience – was thought adrift in the wilderness during the early 00s. That double-disc, concept-rich long-player, a hugely acclaimed release, is all the trio concocted of note before they were done, Pearson seeking refuge amongst the detritus of a thousand other stalled and collapsed careers.
But he was not lost: soon came faint echoes, whispers, of a resurfacing; later, an article in Stevie Chick and Steve Gullick’s Loose Lips Sink Ships magazine, where the artist was spotted during the annual South By Southwest industry shindig and subsequently followed, the buzz of the Austin hype-fest left in the dust. Live dates followed: damaged, intense, impossibly brilliant. Every word dripped with the weight of a dozen worlds. Every stomp of boot on stage could be heard in the afterlife. His performance at one London show left this writer at the edge of tears.
Last of the Country Gentlemen bears the scars of a life lived, loved ones found and lost, in the fallout of a dawning success never fulfilled. It’s a raw and white-knuckled collection, one which captures the phenomenal emotions of the man’s solo live sets. Recorded in just two nights in Berlin after its maker finally saw fit to commit seven songs to tape in the wake of numerous highly positive write-ups for his gigs, it’s bare of instrumentation, relying largely on just an acoustic guitar; across its strings Pearson’s fingers flick and feel, little precise but everything purposeful. Embellishments come in the form of light string arrangements, but producer Peter Salasa is wise to keep them in the background of the mix. Here, they support Pearson without overpowering him – which, given his near-whisper at the microphone, could have easily happened.
Pearson is not flashy of metaphor. He tells his tales – some striking, some mundane, but everything resonating with experience – like a bar-prop found in a backwater dive, willing to share but often caught in circles, his own rambling ways muddling a simple message. So, the story behind Honeymoon’s Great: Wish You Were Her – he’s married; he loves another – runs for 13 minutes when it could be just as affecting in half the time. It’s a captivating piece for Pearson’s weary, teary tones, but its spare form may test the patience of listeners used to quicker-of-fix catharsis. Three further numbers stretch for over 10 minutes, but once suckered attentions rarely stray. Lyrically, he’s not all doom and gloom without a little dark humour: "I know that Jesus saves / because nothing in this world is free" he sings on Country Dumb. Those who’ve witnessed Pearson live understand that he can share a joke and raise a toast, but these seven tracks are bruised delights, with religion close to the heart but open about God’s unwillingness to unwaveringly cooperate. The conversations Pearson had away from the hubbub of modernity have evidently bled into this solo debut. The first sound he makes, a wail on the wind which opens Thou Art Loosed, is a wordless call from an ethereal plane.
Women come, women go; spirits are lifted and downed; the heavens may smile or pour scorn. At the end of the day, a stool, a stage, and a spotlight comprise the environment that Pearson ultimately found comfort in. And Last of the Country Gentlemen is a brilliant framing of this home, bittersweet home.