JOSH T Pearson is, as the name of his latest album states, the last of the country gentlemen. “Yes Mam,” he replies to questions, “Excuse me mam,” when he hasn’t understood the question. And “God bless you mam,” as he ends the conversation.
Pearson is politeness incarnate - albeit a bearded, bedraggled, Texan version. And this week the rootsy alt country singer songwriter comes to Sheffield, as part of the Last of the Country Gentlemen UK tour.
The album’s been heaped with praise – an ode, perhaps, to its disarming and sometimes disturbing emotional rawness. “There’s some painful stuff in there,” says Pearson. “But then life is painful. It’s devastating – full of heartbreak, love – and it’s all autobiographical.”
But he hopes his pain will ease that of others. “I don’t enjoy performing myself but I hope that if I put the stuff out there it will give other people pleasure or encouragement. Writing the songs has been a form of therapy and catharsis. And it’s like they say – a sad face is good for the heart, when you hear about someone else’s pain it makes yours more bearable.”
But it’s not all self-help. Songs are woven with stunning, minimalist guitar, haunting strings and a voice whose scrap heap charm could rival any Nashville country singer. And it’s this grittiness that makes the heart-breaking sentiment of his material. And even this quality – like the words themselves – is real. Following his 2001 release, The Texan-Jerusalem Crossroads with his previous band, Lift to Experience, Pearson worked as a janitor, a groundsman and a decorator. “Working keeps you healthy. And grounded. Most musicians make money and become assholes, treating people like they’re better then them.”
That’s a road Pearson – despite the acclaim of The Last of the Country Gentlemen – wishes not to go down. He’s deferential if nothing else. “Yes mam. And God bless you.”
lJosh T Pearson plays at the Queens Social Club tonight (March 24).