Josh T Pearson – review

Union Chapel, London

Ten years on from Lift to Experience's resurrection-obsessed album The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Josh T Pearson is experiencing a second coming of his own. "We could have sold out this place out twice over," Pearson says, his beard almost touching his chest, his southern drawl tinged with the same awe and fear that sent him scurrying away from success and seeking out the anonymity of an American backwater.

He claims to have not even listened to his long-awaited solo debut, The Last of the Country Gentleman, and marvels that anyone else has. "There must be a lot of sad people," he reflects. Tracing the brutal breakdown of a relationship, the album certainly is not easy listening. As Pearson paces the stage, alone, playing the shivery guitar chords of Sweetheart, I Ain't Your Christ, the light-hearted bantering atmosphere turns intense. Whether a full-blooded roar or sighing whisper, his voice fills every nook and cranny of the venue.

Pearson is joined, for the first time, by a string section – "It was advertised as a quartet but we could only afford three" – for Woman When I've Raised Hell, and the mournful cello and violins enhance his hateful self-pity. But all too soon, the strings are gone, and Pearson is back to blending his sublimely intimate songs with bad jokes, all the while staring skyward and repeatedly muttering, "The king is dead."

Few other musicians, however, could play for two hours and make it feel as though the gig has just begun, or turn each 10-minute dissection of regret and grief – including a version of Boney M's Rivers of Babylon – into a welcome catharsis. Pearson even cajoles the crowd into becoming a harmonious choir for The Devil's on the Run, their faith repaid by his admiration. Let's hope he sticks around this time.

Contributor

Betty Clarke

The GuardianTramp

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