Josh T. Pearson’s debut solo album is a solid gold classic. No debate, take it or leave it. The Last Of The Country Gentlemen is country folk music of the most expressively powerful, elemental kind.ÃÂ The product of Pearson’s singular vision and talent, The Last Of The Country Gentlemen evokes the type of deep soul mining music that Johnny Cash would have wholeheartedly approved of and recognised.
Unadorned acoustic guitar and impassioned vocals, with occasional contributions from violinist Warren Ellis of The Dirty Three/Bad Seeds/Grinderman and pianist Dustin O’Halloran, propels Pearson’s seven expansive, bittersweet songs of experience, love and hate with more emotive impact than a thousand screaming electric guitars.ÃÂ Pearson’s compositions will haunt your dreams and waking hours.ÃÂ ÃÂ You have been warned.
Honest to a fault, utterly bold and fearless in its frankness and execution, Last of The Country Gentlemen is not a record you will play every day, but when you do you will listen to it transfixed from beginning to end.ÃÂ There will be moments, and they will come as sure as night follows day, when the only record that you are able to listen to will be Last Of The Country Gentlemen.
The shorthand back-story about how singer/songwriter Pearson reached this point in his highly irregular ”Ëcareer’ is as follows, but not overwhelmingly important.ÃÂ Pearson hails from Texas and a Baptist/Pentecostal church background. In 2001, Pearson’s three piece rock band Lift To Experience, released their one and only double album masterwork, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads.ÃÂ Brimming with apocalyptic biblical imagery and soaring, feedback overdriven rock guitars, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was instantly commended by critics and audiences alike as a masterpiece, with the band offered several radio sessions by a smitten John Peel. Not that long after the album was released, Lift To Experience imploded. For the next ten years, Pearson would alternate between hiding away from the prying eyes of the world deep in the heart of Texas and performing odd concerts and shows, in America and Europe, when the muse moved him.
Having abandoned any plans to reform Lift To Experience, Pearson even considered recording a covers album based around songs about loneliness. This was also eventually discarded, but the selection of cover numbers (including Patsy Cline’s ”ËSeven Lonely Days’, George Jones’ ”ËLonesome Life’ and ”ËAin’t That Lonely Yet’ by Dwight Yoakam), give some insight into Pearson’s points of reference.ÃÂ A 2006 7′ inch single, split with The Dirty Three, featuring Pearson’s cover of Hank Williams’ ”ËI’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ and live appearances at The West Country Girl creperie in Paris (above which Pearson was bivouacking for a while) and a couple of performances at some All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals only added to the singer/songwriters growing mystique. Most significant of all is that Pearson has finally chosen to return to the fray, with a new empathetic record label (Mute) and a collection of songs recorded in Berlin in January last year.
Beware; Last Of The Country Gentlemen carries a very hefty emotional punch.ÃÂ Though it sounds absolutely nothing like them, the wayward, obsessive spirit and sardonic gallows humour of such heartbreaking albums as Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies Man, Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Lee Hazlewood’s Requiem For An Almost Lady or Fred Neil’s eponymous 1966 LP course through the impassioned songs that comprise Last Of The Country Gentlemen.ÃÂ They are expressed in a completely dissimilar style, yet the raw, earthy qualities of Pearson’s compositions withstand comparison with the strength of purpose and intent evinced in Hank Williams’ best early 1950’s MGM singles.
Josh T. Pearson obviously did not have to research this record by consulting other material in any other medium to gain insights; the songs just flowed out of him.ÃÂ To some extent the song titles of Last Of The Country Gentlemen, related in running order, tell the story that the record chronicles: ”ËThou Art Loosed’ ”ËSweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ’, ”ËWoman When I’ve Raised Hell’, ”ËHoneymoon Is Great, I Wish You Were Her’, ”ËSorry With A Song’, ”ËCountry Dumb’ and ”ËDrive Her Out’.ÃÂ Feelings of guilt, sorrow, devout yearning and self loathing frequently collide throughout the songs, with longing for another demolishing rational thought on ”ËHoneymoon Is great, I Wish You Were Her’; “I feel like she can see me, like she’s starin’ right through your goddamned eyes, I kiss your lips and I feel her whisper back up into mine.”Â
As emotionally harrowing as these devotional tales of love found and lost are (“And I’m so tired of trying to make it right, for a girl who just won’t come to the light, Night after night after night after Christ-haunted night”Â, bemoans the singer in ”ËSweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ’), Last Of The Country Gentlemen is far from po-faced: during ”ËCountry Dumb’ Pearson sings, “We’re the kind who start the books but who just do not finish, We’re the kind who have 10,000 would-be-great, ungrateful, too-long, run-on songs.”Â
It is Pearson’s utter sincerity expressed in his songs, and perhaps his belief that in sharing his experiences of a turbulent relationship he might provide succour to others undergoing the same emotional tumult, that imbues Last Of The Country Gentlemen with a haunting abiding resonance.ÃÂ Yet, as he makes explicit in ”ËSorry With A Song’, he is also aware of the limitations of his craft: “My whole life’s been one clichÃÂ©d country unfinished line after line after line after line. It’s been the curse of my crazy koo-kooed up clocks most all of my life’s time after time after time.”Â During ”ËSweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ’ Pearson observes, ”ËIt ain’t Christmas time it’s Easter, Honey Bunny, and I ain’t the Saviour you so desperately need. ”Ë
Even those whose idea of a spiritual quest is a trip to the off-licence should be profoundly moved by Last Of The Country Gentlemen, due to the universality of the primal emotions revealed and evoked in Pearson’s poignant work. Last Of The Country Gentlemen is roots music looking towards the heavens. Whatever Pearson decides to do next musically (and that could be any direction he chooses, given the material here), Last of The Country Gentlemen is undeniably a very solid foundation upon which to build.
Last Of The Country Gentlemen is a record made by a man because he was compelled to do so, which must surely be the essence of all great music.ÃÂ Whether or not Pearson found making Last Of The Country Gentlemen a cathartic experience or not is unclear, but if you respond to this admirably demanding material you undoubtedly will find catharsis for the broken heart.
Copyright ÃÂ© Ian Johnston 2011