Josh T Pearson - Last of the Country Gentlemen

by Andy Brown Rating:10 Release Date:2011-03-14

In 2001, a cult act known as Lift to Experience released their debut album for Bella Union, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Along with singer/guitarist Josh T Pearson, they'd made a hugely impressive double album of dramatic rock that soared, swooned and strutted in equal measure. Not long after this the band split and their insanely gifted singer Pearson disappeared off the musical map, content to play solo shows as and when he decided with no new record in sight. Anyone lucky enough to catch one of Pearson's live performances will know that he's more than capable of captivating an audience with guitar and voice alone.

Released through Mute Records, Last of the Country Gentlemen is Pearson's first full length solo album, consisting of seven (eight if you get the vinyl) slow-burning, sad-eyed hymns to heartbreak, change, redemption and, ultimately, acceptance. It's a genuinely beautiful album, if not exactly an easy going one. Pearson himself has stated in interviews that he finds the record too personal, too sad to bring himself to listen to.

Opening piece 'Thou Art Loosed' fades in slowly with Pearson singing, " Don't cry for me baby, you'll learn to live without me" before reassuring us that he's "off to save the world". It's a reasonably brief track and serves as an ideal introduction to the album with Pearson's voice recalling the wounded sensitivity of Jeff Buckley. We're drawn deeper into Pearson's melancholic reflections with second piece, 'Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ' as he croons, "I ain't your saviour or your Christ or your goddamn sacrifice". The track gently meanders through just over 11 blissfully beautiful minutes; it's an incredible piece of songwriting. It's an intensely intimate track, like Pearson's in the room whispering confessions into your ear.

Warren Ellis lends his strings to the wonderful 'Woman, When I've Raised Hell', adding further texture to Pearson's acoustic compositions. It's an incredibly powerful moment as Pearson sings, "Woman when I've raised hell, you're gonna know it", his voice full of sorrow and regret. The heavy, melancholic mood doesn't subside with the next track, the stunning 'Honeymoon's Great: Wish You Were Her'. It's such a personal song, you almost feel guilty for listening.

'Sorry with a Song' explores the idea that even the most beautiful song isn't always a good enough apology when you're looking for forgiveness. 'Country Dumb' is something of a, quiet, rallying call to all the other sad-hearted, country gentlemen as Pearson croons, "We are not what you call over-comers, we are failures, each and every one". It's a strangely uplifting song.

The album ends with the brief 'Drive Her Out' with it's repeated refrain of "help me get her out of my mind" closing the album perfectly. If you manage to pick up the vinyl, you'll get to hear the title track'; it's a mystery to me as to why this isn't on the usual release as it's a fucking brilliant song.

Last of the Country Gentlemen doesn't have any big choruses or pop hooks; Pearson's compositions roam freely, much like his live performances, they create a hypnotic, captivating atmosphere. The albums mood remains melancholic throughout, however, with none of Pearson's foot stamping, hell raising numbers, perhaps familiar to those who've seen him perform. That's hardly a complaint as the album works perfectly as it is.

Some might find its relentless sadness a bit too much but for those willing to brave these emotionally stark compositions, they'll be deeply rewarded. Last of the Country Gentlemen took a long time to see the light of day but it was well worth the wait. It's a commendably satisfying experience. Nice one, Josh.

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