Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Matt Oliver, Mastered by Sam Patlove
It was the quietest, most serene and uneventful Sunday morning when Josh T. Pearson stopped by the studio at the end of our South By Southwest week in Austin. The coffee was needed and working the frogs out of our shredded throats, while Pearson showed up with fresh pipes and a water bottle. There was nothing much left to do and there was no one much left to talk to when we reached this day of rest. All matters had been dealt with and all that was left was a wide open day that could be used to actually look up, skyward and see that the thin tree branches that had been hanging over our heads all week were loaded with green leaves and the grass carpeting the ground was a dark, almost aggressive green. These were sights that those back home wouldn't believe were real if we didn't take photographs. It was one of those Sunday mornings that would have allowed all the church-going little girls to wear the pretty spring dresses that they'd had hanging hopefully in their closets all winter, patiently waiting for a day just like this one. It was a day that makes you remember - after an ugly spell of forgetting - how exactly one's skin feels when warm sunlight strikes it. Pearson, dressed in a V-necked white tee-shirt, leisure jacket, slacks and dress shoes, looked the part of a man heading off to either be a part of a congregation or to lead one. He was somewhat quiet, somewhat awkward, mostly not and altogether pleasant to be around for that short amount of time, first thing on that morning. He seemed the guy we were supposed to be with that morning, the guy whose boot soles were supposed to be crunching across the crushed rock pathway to our door, knocking politely and bending his tall frame into the live room, with a guitar and a couple thoughts in tow.
The sermons that Pearson writes into the songs contained on his latest record, "Last of the Country Gentlemen," portray him as that form of imperfect gentlemen that must be forgiven for his many faults. Nice guy - maybe even great guy - who is not immune to temptations, to throwing a beer bottle against the wall in a fit of anger or to being insensitive at times. Being a gentlemen all of the time is an overwhelming amount of hard work and no one's really capable of handling it all. Pearson sounds as if he's a God-fearing man, to a degree. He wears a big version of the cross, that hangs flush against a chest of hair and he makes plenty of remarks about Him in the parameters of his writing, making us believe that he thinks about the consequences and the arbiters of good and evil fairly often. He knows what and who to fear, along with who and what to test, to goad and to manipulate. The characters in Pearson's songs have plenty of issues with women, but we hear the gentleman ringing louder than anything else and there seems to be a real love for the gentler sex. He's still got demons and tremors that step in and throw some punches sometimes and it makes for those sorts of dustups that aren't good for a healthy relationship.
On "Sorry With A Song," Pearson sings about a bad episode, some raging and vengeful jealousy, "This time you asked where I rested my head last summer night/The last time you left, I got my drunk ass pussy whupped in a fight/No lie/My whole life's been one ??? crooked unfinished line after line after line after line." He sounds fed up with a lot, but mostly with himself and the hole that he can't seem to get himself out of. He's got a past and it's always going to be with him. He sings, "All the memories that ain't got shit to do with you," and it gives new meaning to the trite phrase, "It's not you. It's me." Pearson will be a man who will always look and speak like he's heading off to church, but he'll always feel like one who's been damned.