How do you grade a perfect album? More to the point, how do you review an album so remarkable that its perfection will ultimately turn most listeners off?
And here is something else that will blow your mind: Most of the people who end up disliking Last Of The Country Gentlemen after they’ve heard it still won’t be able to pan it very much, because that would be like piling more agony on a guy that sounds like he’s just had the worst day of his entire life.
The back-story goes like this: Josh T. Pearson pulls the plug on the promising Lift To Experience band after one double album and a year of such enormous tragedy that it gets the band members to consider “Maybe this is a sign from a higher being that we should wrap it before things really get bad.”
For a man like Pearson – someone raised in a family with religious convictions – a sign from above is not something to ignore or take lightly.
During a nearly decadelong sabbatical, Pearson released only one song – an appropriate cover of a Hank Williams’ tune. Occasionally, he’d play a gig or two for fifty bucks, purposely avoiding the road to additional notoriety.
But at one show, he noticed that his epic tales of inner turmoil even brought tears to a pair of surely Irish meatheads. It was then that Josh T. Pearson decided he needed to record the material, because he realized that the music he created to resolve his own demons was powerful enough to emit a cathartic response in others.
Last Of The Country Gentlemen is sixty-minutes long with only seven songs to choose from. Do the math, and you’ll see that this means you’re in for a long ride. And with only Pearson’s last-call drawl and barely there instrumentation underneath, you’re going to need a moment or two to fully engulf this understated masterpiece.
The short track listing may be intimidating to some, but it is essential to this album’s success. Nearly every song is a slow build, and for many of them, things start getting jaw-droppingly good around the halfway point.
There’s a vague linear pattern that’s followed on the longer material, but you get the unnerving sense that he’s softening himself up a bit on the first half of the song before totally laying everything out on the song until it feels uncomfortably close to eavesdropping.
“Sweetheart I Ain’t Your Christ” starts with broken guitar scales before Pearson weaves a heart-wrenching tale of a love that’s parting. “You don’t need a lover or a friend,” he whispers. “You need a savior,” he continues, hitting each word with purpose, “And I am not … him.”
You can hear Pearson break down close to tears at some points. At others, he’ll pause for what seems like an eternity – leading the listener to believe the story is over. After the silence, he returns, leading us to believe that he needed a moment or two to collect himself before continuing ahead.
I don’t know how it will affect you, but I pushed back tears over a half-dozen times the first time I heard Last Of The Country Gentlemen. Sure, the impact had a lot to do with the material and the way it’s delivered, but the sheer honesty of this collection resonates with our compassion as people. If you don’t feel a tinge of empathy when you hear “I know no one knows more than I that I was wrong, and still I can barely say ‘I’m sorry’ with a fuckin’ song” (“Sorry With A Song”) then maybe you’re part of what’s wrong with the world. The lack of civility of our elected leaders, the joy that we relish when people fail before us, and the way we address each other in digital anonymity – all of these traits are the polar opposite of what’s taking place in this record.
There’s a sense of caring within Last Of The Country Gentlemen‘s devastation – even when the narrator’s struggling with his own sin and guilt. Yes, there’s a bunch of spiritual imagery throughout the album, giving the confessional a heavier tone and those moments of silence an added poignancy.
Give it the time it deserves and you’ll hear how a quick, minimally arranged weekend recording of a Texan abroad can stand above most anything else you’ll hear all year.
Listen again and you may even hear something beyond the album of the year accolaids that Last Of The Country Gentlemen will undoubtedly receive. You may hear a record that can warm your heart enough that it points the way to your own redemption.