Our Daily Bread 270: Josh T. Pearson ‘The Straight Hits’

April 9, 2018

REVIEW: DOMINIC VALVONA




Josh T. Pearson   ‘The Straight Hits’    Mute,  13th April  2018

Changing his tune (literally) Josh T. Pearson, the lonesome blues Texan with a wagonload of baggage, heads out on to the range with a swag bag of more joyful, unencumbered ‘golden hits’ on his latest album for Mute Records.

Rather ironic for an artist who despite writing and recording for decades has only one previous solo album to his name (2011’s agonizing confessional Last Of The Country Gentlemen), The Straight Hits feels like a ‘best of’ songbook.

Leaving behind the more apocalyptic gospel concepts of his work with the short-lived but acclaimed Lift To Experience, whose 2001 masterpiece The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads left such an indelible mark on the dirty country and Americana blues scenes, Pearson sets himself new parameters; adhering to a five-point rules system for transforming a “batch of tunes” he’d been working on for a decade. Earmarked originally for the ‘unrecorded’ Bird Songs album, the nine original songs on The Straight Hits are a lighter and as the title suggests ‘straighter’ attempt to change the mood.

Though just as heavy reference wise to the faith, obsessions, cruelties and power of love, Pearson has overcome the all-too real addictions and the collapse of his marriage to fire-off a distilled, riff heavy version of cowboy romance. Motivated recently to share more (“before it’s too late”), an epiphany of a sort sparked by the divisions of the 2016 US elections moved him to question if it was better to spread joy then mope and spread more anger. But it was whilst reading (as you do) the 14th century epic poem The Conference Of The Birds by Attar of Nishapur that Pearson muses, finally turned on the creative tap and helped ease this songbook’s passage.





Far from set in stone – the unwritten rock’n’roll law that all rules are written to be broken is invoked on the tender yearning A Love Song (Set Me Straight) – each song must at least try to follow Pearson’s self-imposed requirements: Number one, all songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge; two, the lyrics must run sixteen lines or less; three, they must have the word ‘straight’ in the title; four, that title must be four words or less; and five, they must submit to song above all else i.e. “You do as she tells you, whatever the song tells you”, “You bend to her, and not her to you.”

This probably cuts the fat, indulgence certainly, and makes for a more dynamic sound; especially on the alternative sports anthem opener Straight To The Top! – A pumped-up straight chaser, straight out the gate explosion of country slurred rock and gospel that sounds like Jeff Buckley at the rodeo. Conceived as the sort of fired-up soundtrack Pearson would like to hear, though he says he’s no particular fan, at an American football game, as he prepares for a high-five celebration with his fellow fans. It’s a great start. A fucking great start actually; the faith amped up to match his evangelical bounce back from the precipice: “If you knock me down, I’m gonna rise again. Time after time, there’s no way you can win.”

Taking on a curled lip croon Pearson goes on to sing about interloping lovers on the kooky desert cosmic Straight At Me – playing with the analogies of the old west, and in particular the reservations, the protagonist of this song a native Indian – whilst he reimagines Richard Hell leading The Pretenders through the High Chaparral and bawdy salon piano sing-a-long on Give It To Me Straight. The travails of love are played out to a mix of these more rowdy new wave of Americana hits and more lonesome, serious laments; some of which have a touch of irony, such as the calmer acoustic resigned Damn Straight, the album’s sole cover – originally by the Austin singer/songwriter Jonathan Terrell -, the author of which pines over losing his girl to the seductive power of Nashville’s famous cowboy swooners and crooners. Namechecking a litany of country music legends (“Waylon, Willie and Merle”), the achy-breaky heart singer pines “How could you take her just like that?”, “How could she leave me for a man she don’t even know?”

The Straight Hits is a most rallying rodeo that gives the Americana soundtrack a much-needed kick-in-the-pants; the themes of love, whether it’s the analogical kind, ‘take me right now’ kind, or lamentable kind, enacted across a varied but blistering songbook. Rejecting the stimulants and his demons, Pearson choses the good ol’ fashioned power and redemptive spirit of gospel ye-ye and country rock’n’roll. And don’t it sound just mighty fine and swell!



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