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Josh T Pearson
Last of the Country Gentlemen Michael Dix , March 28th, 2011 11:41

The name Josh T. Pearson might be familiar to those who spent the late 90s with their heads in the NME or listening to John Peel, who was so enamoured with his band Lift To Experience that they recorded several sessions for his late-night radio show. To those who heard it at the time, the group's only album, 2001's double LP The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads - a heady storm of howling overdriven post-rock and fire-and-brimstone lyrical imagery - is still spoken about with awestruck reverence, but it remains largely overlooked. In the decade since they parted ways, Pearson has been hard to pin down, touring sporadically, playing the occasional high-profile show (All Tomorrow's Parties, supporting the reformed My Bloody Valentine in 2009), guesting on Bat For Lashes' first album and moving to Paris.

The title of Pearson's eagerly awaited solo debut, Last Of The Country Gentlemen, with its connotations of a Jim Reeves-styled romantic happy wanderer, is in many ways as misleading a description of the music contained within as The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads was evocative. The only other solo material released in the last ten years – a cover of Hank Williams' ‘I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry' – offers a better idea of what to expect: Pearson, with little more than an acoustic guitar, heart on sleeve, baring his soul for the world to see. Covering the aftermath of a relationship gone sour with alarming honesty, it's a stark, heart-breaking and often harrowing album; whatever Pearson has gone through during his wilderness years, it's a pretty safe bet that it hasn't all been pleasant.

With seven tracks and a running time of an hour, Gentlemen may seem like a daunting prospect, but the epic, rambling nature of these songs – four of which clock in at over ten minutes - is what makes them so spellbinding. Raw and unrehearsed (the album was recorded in Berlin over the course of one weekend last year), Pearson often seems to be making it up as he goes along; his guitar-playing is careless but virtuosic, a mess of fudged finger-picking, jazzy touches and violently strummed flare-ups. Certain lines and phrases are repeated, but there are no clear cut structures, no bridges or choruses. Often, the songs draw to a close or simply break down, only for Pearson to suddenly remember he has more to say and strike back up.

That songs so fractured seem to flow so freely speaks volumes about Pearson's state of mind. It's unclear how much is truly autobiographical and how much is Cohen-esque fiction, but the lyrics are so full of doubt, guilt, longing and loathing, with his many apparent faults – infidelity, drinking and a quick temper - detailed frankly on a track-by-track basis, that you suspect it's mainly the former. Pearson knows he has done wrong, repeatedly, and that he is an impossible person to live with, but although he seems regretful there is little in the way of apology. When, on ‘Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ', he sings "I'm so tired of trying to make it right/ For a girl who just won't come to the light", it's as if he knows it is easier to throw in the towel than to expect his lover to come to terms with the demons he seems unwilling to reject.

‘Woman When I've Raised Hell' deals just as matter-of-factly with the threat of domestic violence. "There won't be a star left untouched in your sky / When my lightning crashes across that night", Pearson snarls over strings courtesy of Dirty Three and Grinderman violinist Warren Ellis; "There won't be nothing not nailed down / Left unturned in this home." It's a disturbing image, but once again Pearson is unrepentant: "Honestly / Why can't you just let it be / And let me quietly / Drink myself to sleep." It's a track that will, for many listeners and whether fact or fiction, be a deeply uncomfortable listen. 'Honeymoon's Great, Wish You Were Her', meanwhile, sees Pearson agonising over his love for "a woman who simply ain't my wife": "And it'd be kinda funny / If it weren't so damn true / I'd gouge my eyes out if I thought it would help me / Not to see her when I look at you."

Last Of The Country Gentlemen is not an album that asks for forgiveness, or for pity, and to be honest most listeners would struggle to offer much of either. As demonstrated in ‘Sorry With A Song', Pearson had a lot to get out of his system: "My whole life's been one clichéd country unfinished line after line / It's been the curse of my crazy cuckooed up clocks most all of my lifetime", he croons, and you know he means it. You could try and hope that making this record has been a cathartic experience for Pearson; that it could contribute in some way to some sort of happy ending, even an attempt to repent for all the unpleasantness... but it doesn't seem to be here. Who knows where these demons might lead him next?