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Premiere: Benjamin Tod - 'Wyoming'

By Jof Owen

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“Men like me probably die alone with some broken dream on a dusty road”, begins ‘Wyoming’, the first taste of what’s to come from Benjamin Tod on his third solo outing, Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing.

“It may be sad”, he reflects, “but so is everything that’s true”.

Honesty and sadness are often bedfellows in the songs of Benjamin Tod, cosying up to each other on his two previous solo albums and in the songs he records with his wife and fiddle player Ashley Mae and bass player Jeff Loops in Lost Dog Street Band.

Famously crowdfunding their albums through Kickstarter and Indiegogo, all while self-publishing their music videos on the YouTube channel GemsOnVHS, Tod and Lost Dog Street Band’s fiercely DIY punk spirit has always influenced everything they do, and his latest record is no exception. Without a manager, a publicist, or a booking agent, they began selling out traditional venues, maintaining their work ethic even as they became unlikely Americana stars.

A street busker who was raised on the street corners of America, Tod has spent the past dozen years building a national audience with his urgent, unfiltered brand of American roots music.

This new album, though, captures him in a moment of quieter reflection; picking over his catalogue to pull out 10 starkly beautiful songs where the power lies in their raw delicacy. His fans have christened it “dark country”, but for Tod, it was simply him getting to the bottom of it all and singing honestly about the hard stuff, just as his heroes Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Jim Ringer always did; straight from and straight to the heart.

“I have a rule in the studio,” explains Tod about the album, one which he recorded in just six hours accompanied by nothing but a Gibson acoustic guitar. “If anything takes more than three takes, stop and do something else. I’m proud to be a one-take guy”.

“These songs are timestamps of my life,” he says. “They’re a list of fragile events: the time I had to shoot my dying dog; the years I spent living in my own hellscape of addiction and self-manipulation; the moment I stopped communicating with a certain person. Some were written a decade ago and some were written right before I started recording, but for 10 different reasons - whether they were too painful, too personal or too pretty - I didn’t want to sing them as soon as I wrote them”.

‘Wyoming’ itself is a song that already found a life for itself on Lost Dog Street Band’s second album Life’s A Dog-Gone Shame back in 2013; the last recordings to feature banjo player and songwriter Nicholas Ridout before he died in that same year.

“Nicholas Ridout was our good friend and remains the biggest inspiration behind what we do”, explained Tod in a Lost Dog Street Band Facebook post a few years ago. “He wrote ‘When I went Down To Georgia’, ‘Lazy Moonshiner’ and plenty other songs on our records. He is not on earth anymore but his music is incredible and his voice remains one of the most powerful I ever heard”.

Listen to ‘Wyoming’, exclusively on Holler below.

"I wrote this song over a decade ago with all the nihilism and despair that came with my youth", Tod tells us about 'Wyoming'. "It was recorded on an older Lost Dog EP with my late friend Nicholas Ridout accompanying me. It made it back onto Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing being the realest example of the title.

"This song has been requested more than any other at shows or around the fire," he continues. "But it never feels right to play without Nicholas. I thought the only appropriate placement for its return would be an album like this. It’s cyclical I suppose, given that this song probably inspired the concept of this album. The subconscious is a dark and mysterious place. I really couldn’t tell you either way".

Now living with Ashley Mae on a 200-acre, off-the-grid homestead in rural Kentucky, Benjamin Tod has reached a new place of rootedness. If Lost Dog Street Band’s previous album Glory chronicled the redemption and recovery involved in getting clean, then the 10 songs on Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing document the relative calm that’s followed.

Glory was about confronting the darkness,” he notes. “Maybe this album is about learning to accept the peace that comes afterward, and admitting you’re worthy of it. That’s been something that’s hard for me. For a while, it was hard for me to be in a wholesome situation. Wholesomeness felt like a lie to me, because I was always doing dark things with dark people in dark places, so it was weird to step into the realm of something brighter“.

“A lot of this album is a prayer to my better angels,” Tod says. “It feels very final to me. I’m letting go of a lot of the things I’ve been attached to throughout my life, and this album is part of that process. It feels very relieving”,

Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing is out on September 23rd. Click here to preorder.