Album Review – “Songs I Swore Never To Sing” by Benjamin Tod
When it comes to the story of how country music was saved in the modern age, it’s the post-punk roots musicians who should be given the deserved credit for starting the revolution. They are the ones who took over the traditions rejected by the mainstream. They were the first to return to Lower Broadway in Nashville when it was still a seedy place full of pawnshops and adult bookstores. They were the first to cultivate self-sustaining local networks from Music Row to Nashville, creating lasting careers and ultimately launching bona fide superstars.
Benjamin Tod is the embodiment of this archetype of post punk roots. As a high school dropout who spent much of his youth hopping on trains and performing on the streets to earn tattered dollars, he’s the kind of character many other underground artists have emulated. Raised in Cottonwood, Tennessee, Benjamin Tod met his wife and violinist Ashley Mae in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky when they were still teenagers. They played music in a band called Barefoot Surrender and eventually formed the Lost Dog Street Band in 2010, coined after the couple’s beloved Labrador Retriever Daisy.
By this time, however, the underground country scene was already shedding its heyday and moving more towards the Appalachian revival that we see today inherent in artists like Tyler Childers and Sierra Ferrell. But Benjamin Tod and the Lost Dog Street Band survived the total implosion of that era through dogged determination and because they fit into those two eras. And while all the DIY attitude inherited from the punk era became less necessary as labels and independent reps rose up to support worthy artists, Benjamin Tod and the Lost Dog Street Band remained faithful. to their principles and did not play the game.
The approach remains very DIY, and attitudinal. Not playing tag ball, only seeking media attention earlier this year, Benjamin Tod is as quick to complain about the sleazy nature of the business as he is about his substance abuse and mental health issues. . A site like Saving Country Music? Of course, it’s never about Benjamin Tod and Lost Dog, because it’s not real. This guy from Trigger is bought and paid as much as anyone. But of course, that pride also kept Tod from asking for help either. As he sings in the opening song of the Lost Dog Street Band’s latest album released earlier this year, titled Glory,
I won’t compromise or sign with thieves
I’m the trash outsider of the underground scene
Only enjoy when I compete
With a knife in my back, outnumbered by three
I’m on the wrong track hanging from the caboose
I can turn all the chaos into shelter and food
And I may not be pretty like all your tools
But I fight like a tramp and I work like a mule
This same do-it-yourself attitude is brought to the music itself. With minimal effort put into the arrangement – and Benjamin’s vocal delivery being rather dry and almost down-to-earth in its mood – it kept much of the audience away from this music. It sounds underground, in a roots style which especially imploded ten years ago with the dissolution of the .357 String Band and the disappearance of Hank3. But it’s the songs and the stories that can’t be denied, and what has sustained Benjamin Tod despite his heavy-handed, principled attitude, and even crowned him one of the preeminent songwriters of our time, regardless of the adversity imposed on him, by himself and others.
Although Benjamin Tod loves to tell you that it’s all done by himself, the YouTube channel Gems on VHS also played a big part in his success over the past five years, with his video rendition of “Using Again” topping some 11 million views, and several other videos on the channel racking up 7-figure stats. . Again, it’s unclear whether it was Gems on VHS’ support that launched Benjamin Tod into the subterranean stratosphere, or if it was Gems on VHS that benefited Benjamin. They both rode the insatiable craving for authenticity in music that has hyper-accelerated during the pandemic.
The title of this solo project by Benjamin Tod entitled Songs I swore never to sing is to be taken literally. Consisting of 10 songs recorded in just six hours, some of the tracks were written 10 years ago, while others are more recent. What ties them all together is how Tod rated them all as too painful to perform. The loss of his dog, the death by suicide of his former bandmate Nicholas Ridout of the Spitshire Band and the potential splits from his wife Ashley Mae are the types of topics discussed here. This Tod was ready to share them all now, and together it resulted in arguably the best collection of songs in his catalog.
Recorded completely acoustically and alone, with just a little natural room reverb to spruce up the cues, Songs I swore never to sing is a ruthless unloading, scathing piece of self-assessment and bloodshed, blessed with an incredibly poetic transmission that makes the words resonate far beyond any instrumental accompaniment could achieve. These songs deserve to be naked. This album is essentially Benjamin Tod lying prostrate on the floor, with no seams or covers. Judge if you want, but you can never accuse him of not being raw and honest.
These are the recitations of a man standing at the edge of a precipice, looking over the edge of a cliff, or down the barrel of a gun, or down into a pill bottle, and choosing to exorcise her pain in words rather than more catastrophic alternatives. No wonder this stuff is too painful to share before. Having to relive those moments while performing those compositions must have been heartbreaking in itself, not to mention turning them into some sort of commercial product to share with the world.
“He will not be nominated, awarded or appreciated by this world as he should be,” Benjamin Todd scolded the release of this album. “Their industry is too mundane and superficial to even elicit any real emotion. It’s a relic of something that’s lost to the masses. I too am becoming obsolete in this world from every mirror axis.
There is definitely some truth in that. But it is also Benjamin Tod who is proud of his fight, because it is in the grip of a restless, tired and hungry emotion that his muse emerges. That’s what you hear on this album, which tones down criticism of some earlier efforts by focusing attention solely on its songs.
The truth is, Benjamin Tod has become more beloved and successful than some fledgling artists signed to major labels these days, or many indie musicians in the middle tier. And Songs I swore never to sing very well may be the record where the rest of the country and roots world wakes up to what it has with Benjamin Tod.
1 3/4 raised guns (8.5/10)
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