Album Review

Lost Dog Street Band - Glory

As they move into a stage where they can no longer define themselves according to what they oppose, Lost Dog Street Band are starting to make the most lifelike music of their career.

Lost Dog Street Band - Glory Album Cover

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Despite the old adage “write what you know,” songwriters need to exercise caution when it comes to self-disclosure. Artists who connect with an audience, of course, tend to present their feelings in a communal light, so that those feelings appear to belong to everyone.

Lyrical bluntness can grow tiresome after just a few verses though, while representations of lonesome despair and hard living over the decades have fossilized into lifeless country music clichés.

Seemingly, none of that applies when it comes to Lost Dog Street Band frontman Benjamin Tod.

Tod has a gift for writing confessional music, to say the least. Where just about any other artist would cross the line into excessive candor or self-absorption, Tod’s work actually benefits from his lack of restraint. With Glory, the seventh full-length offering from the group, Tod is able to portray the dark night of the soul with fidelity so convincing it’ll stop you in your tracks.

Pulling no punches as he wrestles with his demons is nothing new for Tod, but Glory arguably hits harder because it faces life in the aftermath of sobriety—something that the album portrays not as a decisive triumph over addiction, but as a step into a whole new level of hurting.

On the oddly pleasant-sounding ‘What Keeps Me Up Now,’ Tod suggests that, without the anaesthetizing effects of alcohol and heroin to depend on, one is left to stew in the agonizing discomfort of self-doubt.

As violinist/backing vocalist Ashley Mae, slide player Douglas Francisco and standup bassist Jeff Loops lull us in with the leisurely swing of a porch hammock, Tod sings “Do I have what it takes to make it somehow? / What if I fall on my face in front of the crowd?”.

Plagued by these questions as he lies awake at night, Tod recalls how he “used dope to escape” and “burned through all the petty cash” before renouncing music and resolving to take his own life.

Still, what’s most powerful about the song is that it never explicitly gives a name or even a shape to the feeling it addresses. A songwriter who has spelled out what self-loathing and regret feel like in the past - such as on his 2017 solo track ‘Using Again,’ - Tod grapples with free-floating doubts that slip through his fingers and evade description.

One of his biggest strengths has been his ability to make relatable music regardless of the listener’s experience with addiction, or the train-hopping itinerant “tramp” lifestyle he identifies so closely with. Whether or not we share his specific demons, his songs evoke the glare of facing the truth about oneself.

This time though, the songs are charged with an air of uncertainty - epitomized by the opening verse of the Celtic/Scottish-tinged ‘Hayden’s Lament’; "The open road with a heavy load is a good place to begin".

Lost Dog Street Band have done their share of wading through Tod’s bleakest moods. As they return to their busking roots on Glory (a nevertheless more polished impression than last year’s Magnolia Sessions), the band sounds more assured as Tod grows less definitive about where he stands.

A decade ago, when Tod and Mae (a classically-trained violinist) wore their punk attitude on their sleeve and sneered at tourist-trap Music Row culture, their antagonism for the corporate grip on country music ensured that they would always have an enemy to rail against.

But when an artist has proven that they can subsist on their own terms—and when the bottle, the syringe and even the face in the mirror no longer pose as much of a clear and present threat as they once did—one is simply left with persistent thoughts in the middle of the night. Glory details what it’s like when there’s nothing left to punch at but air.

As they move into a stage where they can no longer define themselves according to what they oppose, Lost Dog Street Band are starting to make the most lifelike music of their career.

8/10.

Lost Dog Street Band's seventh album, Glory, is out now via Anti-Corp Music.