Josh T. Pearson's Last of the Country Gentlemen is a nakedly confessional, unflinchingly honest, sometimes suffocatingly intimate album. It profiles the desperation of one who desires deliverance from tormented obsession and self-destructive behavior, yet can find neither rest nor redemption. Pearson expresses this without megalomania or self-pity. He's fronted by Texas trio Lift to Experience, who released a single album a decade ago, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, which married the beautiful, overdriven sonics of My Bloody Valentine to Americana with Biblical-scale spiritual visions. But Pearson's lived hard and wild in the ensuing decade. Last of the Country Gentlemen reveals that he still believes in his God, but he's been also torn apart by love, drink, and a past he cannot reconcile, but which he accepts full responsibility for. Recorded over two nights in Berlin, the disc contains seven songs -- four over ten minutes long -- usually skeletally adorned by his voice and elliptical guitar playing. (The latter is sometimes a device he'll employ for long stretches, seemingly to summon the courage to continue to sing). These songs are direct lyrically, and often repetitive, but seldom do they offer resolution. They can make monumental leaps in narrative and emotion: one moment he's expressing naked tenderness, the next drunken brutality, and in a flash, he shifts back. Opener "Thou Art Loosed" features Pearson's beautiful falsetto in a wished-for bravado he doesn't possess: "Don't cry for me baby/You'll learn to live without me/Don't cry for me baby/I'll learn to live without you," before truthfully snarling the delusional, "I'm off to save the world/At least I can hope," at song's end. "Sweetheart I Aint Your Christ," spurns a lover's enormous need because it terrifies him. His own hunger appears later in "Sorry with a Song." "Woman When I've Raised Hell" (which features a small string section that includes Warren Ellis) demands acceptance of his alcoholism, because refusal would result in violent consequence. The hinge piece, "Honeymoon's Great! Wish You Were Here," is a tormented confession revealing his love for a woman he isn't marrying. Its lyrics are too profound to excerpt; it's the most loaded (and finest) song in this collection. That woman returns three songs later in closer "Drive Her Out," which is a truer alter-ego of "Thou Art Loosed." Last of the Country Gentlemen is a demanding listen; its wandering pace, its startling, emotionally jarring terrain of uncalculated honesty, and its obsession can be uncomfortable. That said, it is a recording of surprising originality and great beauty. ~ Thom Jurek
Rolling Stone (p.96) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "He veers from hush to howl in torrents of confession like a prairie-minister cross of Bob Dylan's talking blues and Jeff Buckley's raptures."
Rolling Stone (p.71) - Ranked #33 in Rolling Stone's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "Faith, love and loss are as tangled as the singer's country-preacher beard on this stark, confessional masterpiece."
Record Collector (magazine) (p.91) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "A wonderful record full of a stirring, gentle power."
Uncut (magazine) (p.72) - 5 stars out of 5 -- "[A] stone-cold masterpiece of melancholy, a lost telegram of flickering faith and burned-out hope....These songs come from a place beyond romance."
Uncut (magazine) (p.35) - Ranked #5 in Uncut's '50 Best Albums Of 2011' -- "[The debut] told a labyrinthine story of lost love, through slowly unraveling songs and a fearless, unnerving intensity."