Friday, 25 March 2011

Album Review: Josh T. Pearson "Last Of The Country Gentleman" (Mute)

Well here it is. The recording that some of us have been waiting for for ten years. Before I start, let us get one thing absolutely straight - Josh T Pearson is a legend. Not because he is a maverick recluse who hangs out in Paris bars; and not because of his freakish hobo looks or his idiosyncratic relationship to the music industry. He is legend because of the music he released a decade ago as Lift to Experience. For many, myself included, Texas Jerusalem Crossroads is nothing less than a masterpiece - the perfectly formed musical vision of a cock-sure young son of a southern preacher. No-one, and I mean absolutely nobody in this whole world apart from Josh T Pearson could have produced a concept record about delivering the message of god through his band as a method of unleashing the prophesised day of judgement and revelations, and pull it off with such confidence and conviction. Now I am a card carrying member of the National Secular Society - but his vision on that album was delivered with so much poetry and musical invention that it astonished me at the time, and it still does. And so it came to pass that the harbinger of this musical prophecy was not the second coming at all. Like the rest of us, he turned out to be a troubled, romantic fool. Lift to Experience split in acrimony shortly after their first major tour, and Josh T Pearson was left roaming the world aimless and unable to find the will in him to deliver the next chapter in his story. Until now.

Musically, Last of the Country Gentleman is quite a departure. Instead of a sprawling musical symphony, we are treated to a minimal country folk approach. The voice and guitar is only occasionally broken up with orchestration. The effect is very intimate, though probably the most startling thing about these recordings is just how much Josh T Pearson's voice has changed over the years. In this I do not mean his physical tone but his voice persona. This is no longer the sound of a young man who thinks he can take on the whole world and heavens above; this story is fragile and damaged. "Don't cry for me baby, you'll learn to live without me. For I'm off to save the world, at least I can hope" - is the opening message of the album - and from that point on we are dragged down with him into a personal hell. His messianic tendencies are laid bare and explained in Sweetheart I Ain't Your Christ - "and when I said I'd give my life, I weren't talking suicide". This presents the backdrop to the album - which is essentially a raw and open account of broken love, specifically relating to his recent divorce. The following two tracks, Woman, When I've Raised Hell and Honeymono's Great! Wish You Were Her is the centre piece of the album. They describe the tragedy of male emotions that can literally run riot through a broken relationship; destructive - "Woman when I've raised hell, then your going to know it. Don't make me rule this house, with the back of my hand"; delusional - "Heaven knows that a man can't control his dreams"; and escapist - "Honestly, why can't you let me be, and let me quietly, drink myself to sleep". This is pretty harrowing stuff, and frankly, sometimes its difficult to know where to look. After the onslaught of these two tracks, Sorry with a Song is a failed attempt at an apology. "And I know it's all my fault, and the bloody marriage to the deep alcohol. I know it's sad to say but right now these shots keep me sane". And after the failed apology comes the failed excuse; Country Dumb comes across as a mythologised rational for the damage he has caused "I came from a long line in history of dreamers. Each one more tired than the one before".  The album ends with a cry for help "Can you help me drive her out of my mind. God damn it's driving me blind".

And this is the rub. It seems to me that Josh T Pearson is only ever going to release records when he has to. For the most part, he is perfectly happy entertaining small impromptu gatherings in cafes and bars - but right now he needs to talk, he needs us to listen and we are compelled to do so because yet again, he has given us a recording that is utterly convincing and completely unique. (10/10).

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