The last time I saw Josh T. Pearson live, he pulled a knife on an unruly audience member. Or at least he threatened to – my memory’s fuzzy, it was almost a decade ago. The former Lift to Experience frontman certainly looked like a man who might pull a knife on someone, clad in a jetblack bad-cowboy outfit, hat and long beard and all, under the scorching Austin sun.
It was a rare show promoting a rare album: Pearson’s solo debut Last Of the Country Gentlemen, one of those albums that got passed around like a secret by those in the know. Over half of the seven tracks topped ten minutes, harrowing fingerpicked ballads with titles like “Sweetheart, I Ain’t Your Christ” and “Honeymoon’s Great! Wish You Were Her.” It was my favorite album of 2011, and those of us who grew obsessed with it couldn’t wait for a follow-up.
The wait took seven years. Finally, a few months ago, album number two – cheekily titled The Straight Hits! – finally came out. A genre mashup of country and rock and soul, it sounds nothing like the first album. Written quickly to break out of writer’s block, every song was written according to Pearson’s self-imposed “Five Pillars”:
1) All songs must have a verse, a chorus and a bridge.
2) The lyrics must run 16 lines or less.
3) They must have the word ‘straight’ in the title.
4) That title must be four words or less.
5) They must submit to song above all else.
The album is a lot of fun – fun is the last word one would apply to the previous album – and it’s been a thrill to see Pearson re-emerge from hibernation. Not least because with every rare album cycle he delivers some knockout covers. Last time around it was “Rivers of Babylon” and a stunning Christmas EP.
And this time he’s delivered his reinvention of a new Depeche Mode song with, we must say, an excellent title: “Cover Me.” His version hearkens back to that first solo album, just Pearson crooning over an acoustic guitar. Pretty much every tentpole you might associate with a Depeche Mode song has vanished. You wouldn’t even swear Pearson ever listened to the original song, and the cover is the better for it. The man has some experience with Depeche Mode covers; back in 2011, he performed a similarly dramatic reinvention of “Enjoy the Silence.” It sounds nothing like Depeche Mode – and everything like Josh T. Pearson.
We’re thrilled to premiere Pearson’s new “Cover Me” cover below. Let’s hope he has a few more songs to sing before he disappears again.
Buy Josh T. Pearson’s ‘The Straight Hits’ on all digital platforms. Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel.