Update (3÷25÷2011): I’ve recently posted my review of Last of the Country Gentlemen.
Once upon a time, there was a band called Lift To Experience who foretold of the apocalypse and the promised land of Texas with the aid of ear-shattering guitar noise and feedback, heavenly vocals, and lyrics that were supposedly handed down from on high. They released one album, 2001’s The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, and then essentially imploded. The frontman of that band, one Josh T. Pearson, then shacked up in a little Texas town, working odd jobs to pay the bills — and occasionally performing concerts in North American and Europe.
At various times, it was said that Pearson was recording new material — a double album about angels and demons, an album of covers of songs about loneliness — but nothing ever materialized except for a few YouTube videos and some songs on his MySpace page. However, miracle of miracles, a new album is, indeed, coming out. Titled Last Of The Country Gentlemen, it will be released on March 29 by Mute Records. The first single, “Country Dumb”, is already available on iTunes.
Louder Than War’s Ian Johnston got his hands on an early copy and has already posted a review. Suffice to say, he likes it a lot:
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. 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. Pearson’s compositions will haunt your dreams and waking hours. You have been warned.
Beware; Last Of The Country Gentlemen carries a very hefty emotional punch. 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. 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.
Johnston has also posted an extensive interview with Pearson regarding the album, the end of Lift to Experience, his change in musical sound/direction, and much more:
In conversation Pearson is very friendly, considerate and surprisingly open. He possesses a razor-sharp, gallows humour, delivered in his steady, quiet Texan drawl, which sometimes goes completely over some people’s heads (who on earth said American’s cannot understand irony?). Pearson also carries a deep, world-weary air of intensity, sensitivity and sadness. The man and the spiritually charged acoustic music of love and loss he has evoked on the epic Last Of The Country Gentlemen are definitely one and the same.
Lift To Experience only produced one album, the apocalyptic double LP, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Released in 2001, before 9/11, driven by soaring guitars and the impassioned collective playing of the band, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads offered a committed vision of Texas as a new Garden of Eden style sanctuary after a global catastrophe. The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads received great critical approbation in Europe (Kevin Shields loved the record and has subsequently given Pearson support slots and a gig at the My Bloody Valentine’s All Tomorrow’s Parties Nightmare Before Christmas festival in December 2009), but after briefly touring the album Lift To Experience quickly imploded. “Well, that was a complicated time,” sighs Pearson, with much understatement.
“Complicated politically. I kinda lost my mind on that album. George Bush was kind of fucking with my metaphors. I had planned for it to be a three-album cycle, song cycle. It just didn’t get there. It was a real fragile thing. There were so many contributing factors. I was a little sad for a while. There were some deaths and cocaine, sadness. I just lost heart I couldn’t carry it. I wasn’t getting a lot of help from the other boys. We dropped the ball on it. We needed time… I just went out there and prepared for the end of the world. That’s just the way it happened.”
Musically, Last Of The Country Gentlemen strips Pearson’s highly distinctive music back to vocals, acoustic guitar (“It’s hard to get more earthy than that”) and occasional violin and piano. “No I hadn’t” responds Pearson, when questioned if he had tired of the rock band format of Lift To Experience. Then he reconsiders; “Yeah, I guess I had. I was tired of lugging the shit around. I was tired of carrying amps. To play sonic soul you need about five amps. I mean rock’s good, but I just didn’t want to lift the equipment anymore. Also, the last five years I’ve kinda been on the road. It’s much easier to carry around an acoustic than a bunch of amps in the back of the van. You know it wasn’t that I tired of the format, I got lazy. I tell a story when I write, I didn’t want to tell that story right now. I tend to write what’s in front of me, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”
Josh T. Pearson performing “Woman When I’ve Raised Hell” at La Vapeur in Dijon, France: