Sunday, April 3, 2011

Josh T Pearson: Sad, Funny And Ruminative. Is He A Townes Van Zandt For Our Times?

Josh T Pearson by Herschell Hershey
Josh T Pearson, a photo by Herschell Hershey on Flickr.
Josh T Pearson's album, Last of the Country Gentlemen is one of the best of the year. It's quiet, and ruminative, and sad. Some of the songs sound only half-formed, like they're dissolving into nothing as Pearson plays them. It's a tough record to listen to, and although I love it, I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone else. You have to be ready to take this stuff onboard.
Live, though, he's a different proposition. I was reminded greatly of the time I saw another Texan singer-songwriter, Townes Van Zandt. Townes was late for the show, and when he arrived, he was very drunk. He explained he had been delayed by a wine-tasting event - a Thunderbird wine-tasting. You couldn't doubt it. And, for the next hour or so, he told rambling jokes, and almost forgot to play. Pearson wasn't noticeably drunk - he had only his guitar and a bottle of water with him onstage, but he did have that Townes sense of humour. "What's the difference between a musician and a large pizza?" he asked. "A large pizza can feed a family of four." And when he played, he seemed to lose himself in the space between the notes of the songs. His guitar-style was guite extraordinary. I'd say at times I was wondering whether he could play the guitar at all - he barely touched the strings, tickling them into life. And then, when the music swelled, it all became clear. But he clearly liked those misty moments best. Of course, the Purcell Room was the wrong venue. It has great sound, and good sight-lines, and - much appreciated by the artist - a fine array of fruits backstage; bananas, grapes, you name it. But it's also a reverential place - the audience were treated like they were at a classical recital, only being admitted between songs, and applauding politely a moment after each song ended. Pearson looked a little out of place up there. I wish I could have seen him in a honky tonk, or, failing that, the Edinburgh Venue, where I saw Townes. Nobody was reverential there. They were more concerned about the sweat dripping from the ceiling.
Still, two days later, I still have "Sweetheart, I Ain't Your Christ" rolling around my mind.