Josh T Pearson has had his time in the wilderness. Ten years ago his band Lift to Experience released their only album, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, a seriously meant work about the apocalypse and humanity's last stand in the band's home state, Texas. The terrorist massacres of 11 September that year seemed part of its portents to Pearson. And when this mutton-chopped and bearded trio played, they did so with the heavy, wracked power of a possessed U2. But the band members' lives seemed cursed, and Pearson threw the stardom that loomed away as if it was a snake. He has since wandered Texas, Paris and Berlin. This son of a Southern preacher, who once spoke in tongues, offered lonely glimpses of heaven and hell at rare solo gigs. Albums of songs were discarded as a devoted cult grew. A new LP, Last of the Country Gentlemen, is, to amazement, released next month.
"I hope your 10 years were better than mine," Pearson wryly offers. We're in an east London pub basement. The hubbub from upstairs regularly intrudes through swinging doors on an intimacy that requires leaning in, to hear Pearson's murmurs. Lift to Experience's thunder has been replaced by a man who stares straight ahead, fingers strumming his acoustic guitar in slow motion, his thumb barely grazing a string. Though his short set includes fearsome country songs about the infidelity and break-up torturing him on his new record, he doesn't let their oppressive mood capture us. Even "Country Dumb", epic pop of sorts, becomes a whispered sketch, as if all the worrying and honing has left skeletons and traces of songs.
Pearson tells lots of funny jokes too. Self-deprecating irony has always balanced the brimstone, and the beard that looks like a prophet's may just be because he's Texan. The thought persists that this great talent is flinching from the full force of what he's created.