JOSH T. PEARSON / COLD SPECKS Royal Northern College Of Music, Manchester 21 November 2011
Cold Specks are a male/female vocal/guitar duo that, on this evidence, sound a little like Gillian Welch with an extra infusion of gospel, blues and spirituals. Vocalist Al Spx has to abandon their opening number three times due to the persistent threat of a coughing fit that never really amounts to anything, but the fourth’s the charm, unleashing the full potency of her spine-shivering vocals. If only the songwriting was as compelling as that voice.
You’d never guess from Josh T. Pearson’s sole solo album, “Last Of The Country Gentlemen”, but there’s a substantial comedy element to the former Lift To Experience man’s live performance; a mordant, bestial humour, admittedly, mining a rich seam in drummer jokes, but it’s there nevertheless. It helps to elongate an evening that’s barely six songs long (“We’ve got until 11 o’clock”, Pearson quips early on, “That’s four songs, three-and-a-half if you’re lucky!”), his rambling, spidery possible masterpieces expanding to fill the space available to them. Perhaps the second-biggest revelation of the evening is the way his fingers move like waves against the guitar strings to create his distinctive jagged, restive melodies. Surprise number three is when he covers “Rivers Of Babylon” and just as Mark Kozelek bends other peoples’ songs around his standard musical framework when he sings them so does Pearson, making The Melodians’ biblical reggae work his own.
Marred only by some kerfuffle and confusion when the allocated seats turn out to be nothing of the sort, this is a unique evening; great, unexpected and an acquired taste, but, judging how many of the audience appear to be returnees from the banter and reactions, an addictive one.
JOSH T. PEARSON Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute)
Formerly of Texan band Lift To Experience, Josh T. Pearson’s debut album “Last Of The Country Gentlemen” is his first recorded work since that band’s sole record was released in 2001. Documenting the fallout and collateral damage from a relationship gone wrong, the album’s verbose track titles function as chapter headings in a novel of discontent and heartbreak.
Opener “Thou Are Loosed” drifts in on the undulating waves of acoustic guitar that are Pearson’s sonic signature, his voice haunted and hunted like the siren bringing down wrath and destruction upon herself. And wrath and destruction are prominent in the world of the last country gentleman. This open, tattered wound of an album balances precariously on the tightrope between emotional ecstasy and eternal damnation, a similar kind of dialectic that haunted the work of Marvin Gaye in his “What’s Going On”/”Let’s Get It On” years. Many of these songs – some meandering for up to 13 minutes - are cragged and jagged both musically and lyrically, their long, circuitous lines and phrases being of the kind that you really have to step back a bit from to take in fully. They’re mostly instrumented by only the man and his guitar, although subtle string arrangements illuminate some of the album’s darker corners, managing to be simultaneously both epic and intimate. “Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her” captures the crux of the album’s dilemma (chiefly boy marries girl, boy wishes girl was someone else, boy writes 70 minute song cycle on subject), being near-biblical in its uncomprehending remorse, and if there are shades of “Blood On The Tracks” here then the self-lacerating “Country Dumb” is its “Idiot Wind”.
Bleak and hard going as it undoubtedly is, “Last Of The Country Gentlemen” is a classic of whatever genre it’s created, and if its another decade until Pearson’s next record he’s given us more than enough to chew on in the meantime. The vinyl edition arrives on quite good-sounding “180 gm heavy vinyl” with a bonus track and a CD of the album.