Josh T. Pearson isn’t quite a household name. The first full length record he made found its form in the sprawling, prophesying Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, the debut LP of Lift To Experience, but was sadly and unjustly found short of ears to hear it. A whole lot of rock ‘n’ roll ™ in said band ensued, followed in turn by their break-up, Pearson’s busking around playing a few gigs and appearing on Bat For Lashes’ Fur and Gold. But this is a back story of the Texan musician that is not altogether important in seeing this record as an autonomous piece of music. Last of the Country Gentlemen is an absolute classic of a break-up album; as bitter as Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, as candid as Rumours and as desolate as Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, and it doesn’t need any of those comparisons to be so.
Truth be told, Last of the Country Gentlemen defies comparison. It stands alone as a collection of seven cracked, guttural confessions so individual in their stories that it holds no contemporaries. It loves, lusts and hates in equally relentless measures, sucking an atmosphere into just under an hour’s worth of tracks and spitting it right back out again, leaving a void when the record stops spinning. This is a personal gospel of sorts, and is naturally unsettling and intrusive to listen to. The story goes that Pearson committed these tracks to tape in Berlin, needing just two takes to finish, after seeing how affective they were on his audience live. In a sense, though, this record is made to be listened to alone, when the words can really hit home.
That’s because Last of the Country Gentlemen is not easy going stuff. Pearson peddles a brand of countrified, ‘weird America’– tinged folk that some people just won’t get. Sonically it holds few similarities, and although atmospherically it offers a comparison to Bon Iver, Pearson’s melancholy is a hell of a lot less accessible than Justin Vernon’s. Let’s just say you won’t find any of these tracks covered by a fourteen year old kid on the radio. The majority of the record is accompanied only by Pearson’s loosest of loose guitar work, the notes all knotted and running into one another, spilling all over the whiskey soaked vocals where the only let up, if it can be called such, comes when Grinderman’s Warren Ellis seeps in with some truly mournful violin on album highlight ‘Woman When I’ve Raised Hell’. If the music is not exactly considered, Pearson pairs mood with lyricism to astounding effect. Take ‘Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her’, where he drawls, “I’m in love with another woman / who simply ain’t my wife”. Finding such bluntness in heartache on record is a rarity of uncomfortable magnificence, and it gasps along as one of the most accomplished qualities of this album.
There’s nothing conceited about Last of the Country Gentlemen. Pearson avoids over-sentimentality by leaving the songs as sprawling masses of fragility, where there’s no sense of exaggeration or falsehood in his stories. The sincerity of the tracks is found in the sense that they could sound different at any given time, a quality that Pearson’s voice finds on the record, transforming from a whisper to a growl, to a falsetto crying out in repentance. You’ll be hard pushed to find a feeling of salvation or hope on any of these tracks, but you’ll be pushed much, much harder to find a record any more truly overwhelming.
From Joe Abbitt.