In 2001, with his band Lift to Experience, Josh T. Pearson created an epic domestic-shoegaze classic, in the form of the double-LP concept record The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads. Like the musical equivalent of a Monte Hellman–Pier Passolini double feature, the album (released on the British label Bella Union) quickly became a cult classic. Awash in arch biblical imagery, swirling guitars, and angelic vocals that recalled both Jeff Buckley and his father, this wide-screen affair was a burst of creativity that came out of nowhere and left the listener dizzy, confused, and searching for more.
Despite the underground acclaim garnered by the album, Pearson decided to fold the band and go on hiatus. Some ten years later, he has reemerged with Last of the Country Gentlemen, released on Mute. Recorded in Berlin, Country Gentlemen is upon first listen an obvious departure from his earlier dealings in Lone Star end times. It’s a hushed affair built on delicate finger-picking and dusty roots strums. However, with time it emerges as an achingly melancholy response to the lush chaos of Crossroads.
While no single song on the album comes close to the weight and volume that Lift to Experience was capable of slinging, Last of the Country Gentlemen delivers its own subtle intensity. Not unlike Crossroads, listening to Country Gentlemen can be an almost exhausting undertaking. For one thing, Pearson’s songwriting remains expansive, with several tracks clocking in well past ten minutes. The songs meander to their destination, yet never feel lost amidst the album’s rocky emotional terrain.
The religious imagery used to such creative ends on Crossroads has been toned down in favor of more directly personal content, yet themes such as suffering, redemption, loss, and salvation remain very much front and center. Yet, lest we think Pearson is prepared to die for our sins, he makes clear on the album’s second track that “Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ.” It’s this plaintive, direct emotionalism that gives the album its strength. When Pearson, whose heavenly voice has been worn by time and experience, plainly states that “I’m in love with another woman who simply ain’t my wife,” it’s almost overwhelming in its candor—a brutal, heartbreaking admission far removed from the vagaries of spiritual salvation. We are hearing the raw ore of the human condition. Or at least that of one single man. The tenor doesn’t let up for close to an hour, and the end result is a moving and welcome, albeit sometimes fatiguing, comeback from what was thought to be a lost soul.