BEST OF 2011: 16. Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen

It was early evening on the Saturday of Green Man when I entered the Far Out tent, curious to see how an album I’d been increasingly engaged by might translate to the live environment, particularly that of a festival. The “I’m not Iron & Wine” (headlining on the Sunday) riff was a little over-used, although in such a charming fashion that it was hard to find it even remotely annoying and the seemingly spontaneous joke spot was a delight, even if it’s since become clear that it’s essentially guaranteed at every show. But it wasn’t the chit-chat that made the forty-five minute set so memorable. Within seconds of starting, the tent had been hushed and the sheer noise coming from one man and his dextrously played electric guitar was staggering.

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Pearson essentially fades himself in on album opener ‘Thou Are Loosed’, one of the album’s two conventional length songs, much as he does live. The song seems to creep up out of the floor until it surrounds you, the complex strumming drawing you in towards the voice at its core. And then, before you know it, ‘Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ’ is underway, picking up on the suggestions of a relationship in its death throes from the previous track. The crisscrossing between religious and romantic concepts is riveting: “You need a Saviour and I just am not him,” he sings, and it’s hard not to feel the punch of every word. The use of silence on ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’ is wondrous, often leaving us hanging on every syllable in the awkward pauses which fall after each emotional outpouring. It’s not easy listening and I can see why some people cannot connect with it – it’s every bit as torturous at times as those initial reviews said, but it’s a magnificent achievement.

When some severe and initially rather muted strings creep into ‘Woman, When I’ve Raised Hell’, there is a palpable sense of release, broadening the focus a little and airing the room a little. Although any respite is short-lived, with the thirteen-minute ‘Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her’ next up, offering stark, painful lyrics aplenty, not least “Whenever we make love, I’m made sadder every time” and “Don’t ask me what I’m thinking, Honey, you know I cannot lie.” The length of it seem irrelevant but the emotional exhaustion at the end of it is palpable. That it was recorded over only a few days only adds to the sense of one man offloading pretty much everything in his head.

And it’s that sense of offloading that runs through ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’ – “And, what little I am able to know of love, I know that it hurts” on ‘Sorry With A Song’ – without really suggesting that all this bloodletting is actually getting the poor bastard anywhere. He’s a genial stage presence but when he’s knee-deep in emotional castration, the look on his face suggests he’s reliving every second. If you’re a sucker for the moments where the sound builds in line with the rising feelings being dredged for the lyrics, then be sure to seek out remaining copies of the vinyl only live release, ‘The King Is Dead’, which offers some sense of the intensity of his live show, coupled with neat examples of that humour I mentioned earlier. At points, these renditions even top those on the album.

For a seven song album (eight if you buy the vinyl – and why wouldn’t you?) it’s lengthy at almost an hour but, just as you don’t notice how few songs he gets through in a live set, time is irrelevant here. ‘Last Of The Country Gentlemen’ doesn’t drag. Indeed, when it finishes, I have to actively fill the gap it leaves. But for my obsession with smart melodies, I suspect this album would be a little higher up the list but I think my reasons for recommending it are clear. Clear your mind of expectations, and clear your diary for an hour, and see where this truly remarkable record takes you.

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