Josh T. Pearson - The Straight Hits!

by Kevin Orton Rating:8 Release Date:2018-04-13
Josh T. Pearson - The Straight Hits!
Josh T. Pearson - The Straight Hits!

It's been nearly two decades since Josh T. Pearson made his mark in Lift To Experience. Despite that, he's only just released his 2nd solo record. At this point, Lift To Experience is more of a legend than a band. One that all too quickly crashed and burned. Eventually, Josh T. Pearson emerged from the wreckage as a bearded long-haired troubadour with the solo effort, The Last Of The Country Gentleman. A dense collection of introspective warbles. As for his latest hat trick, The Straight Hits! ---if the shave and the haircut is any indication, Pearson’s trying to clean up his act. The end results however, are anything but straightforward.   

Right off the bat, you may notice every track features the word “straight”. A stunt that positively screams “novelty record!” Surprisingly, by and large, Pearson avoids the trap he set up for himself. ‘Straight to the Top!’ kicks things off in complete Cramps mode. Pearson doing his very best Texas answer to Lux Interior. A far cry from Country Gentleman and closer to Lift To Experience. It all sets the scene for the blistering, ‘Straight At Me’. Pearson laying on the Texas drawl with a trowel.

The swaggering, ‘Give It To Me Straight’ takes its cue from Exile On Main Street. Pearson giving it his best Mick Jagger. A messy rave up that eventually slides off the rails into goofiness. The playfully moronic backing vocals bringing the Damned to mind. Clearly Pearson and the band are having a blast in the studio, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into a song that transcends the camaraderie.

Without much further ado, things are whittled down to a lone acoustic guitar for ‘Straight Laced Come Undone’.  A perverse mix of the silly and the sincere. ‘Damn Straight” continues in the same vein. Pearson, playing the half-assed part of a sad sack who’s lost his baby to the sinning ways of Country Music. “How could you take her like you were plucking a rose? Damn you Strait, damn you Hank, damn you Jones.” Strait: as in George. Yuck. Yuck. By contrast, ‘Love Straight To Hell’ shoots like a bullet through bullshit. Brooding and driving, fans of Lift To Experience are sure to be appeased. Here Pearson finally stops snickering at his own jokes and plays it, “straight”.  

‘The Dire Straights Of Love’ ambitiously nods toward the Rat Pack, before devolving into hoaky spoken word pastiche. Vocally, Pearson clowns around on one line and then, tries to tug your heartstrings with the next. It’s a strategy that’s employed throughout the album. At worst, the tongue is lodged a little too firmly in cheek. At best, things stumble upon the poignant.  ‘Whiskey Straight Love’ manages to be the most successful example of this sort of delivery. “You are the best thing I ever did wrong with my life,” he drawls with casual intimacy. It’s here we get to heart of all the “straight” jokes.  

The atmospheric, ‘A Love Song (Set Me Straight)’ has Pearson in Luke the Drifter mode, whispering sweet somethings in your ear, disclosing that Love is the “most terrifying four lettered word of all”. For once, Pearson resists the temptation to subvert the proceedings. When his smooth, (and for once, unaffected) tenor finally breaks into song, it’s an arresting moment. Amidst all this tomfoolery, lies a gorgeous 1950’s style ballad, delivered without customary irony. A song that truly Lifts To Experience. “You Are Music to my ears,” he sings, before the unexpected appearance of a solitary horn draws things to a close. As for the last track, ‘Straight Down Again' provides an uneasy coda with Pearson indulging in some decidedly overwrought vocals.  

Despite the title, The Straight Hits! is all over the place. If its strengths are its weaknesses, it doesn’t always capitalize on those strengths. Listening, I can’t help but be reminded of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies On Sherbert. There’s the same willful attempt at self-sabotage. Albeit, more contrived. If it’s an album about straightening out and getting your shit together, it’s also about getting in your own way at nearly every opportunity. Truth is, when Pearson stops fucking around, things shine.

While much more accessible than Country Gentleman, Straight is likely to be a frustrating listen for most Lift fans. But I’ll say this much, there’s something interesting going on in between Josh T. Pearson’s ears.  Where Lift To Experience doled out sardonic allusions to the Book of Revelations, here Pearson does the same for Honky Tonk clichés. Despite any shortcomings, The Straight Hits! remains a compelling listen. Part ode, part lampoon, part head scratching soul search.

 

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