Benjamin Tod returns this month with his third solo recording, Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing on Anti-Corp Records. The album’s somewhat ominous title references a 10 song collection of deeply personal songs that many, including Tod himself, probably didn’t expect to find a collective home. Tod explains,
“These songs are timestamps of my life,” he continues. “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 or too personal or too pretty, I didn’t want to sing them as soon as I wrote them.”
If you’ve followed Tod or his longtime band Lost Dog Street Band, for any length of time, you’re likely familiar with his general history. There were broken homes and an expulsion from school at fourteen. Tod began busking on Nashville sidewalks, quickly learning how to scratch out survival performing old-time and folk music along with a handful of originals for those taking a chance listen. Living on his own from about sixteen on, Tod began traveling America via railway freights, a lonesome stranger passing town to town, all while honing his craft, and building a repertoire of songs and skills.
Along the way, Tod met his wife Ashley Mae, and formed Lost Dog Street Band along with Jeff Loops. More and more people began to take notice, including the popular Youtube page, Gems On VHS, which shared the music to an even wider audience and well, here we are today with Tod’s third solo release as well as a four albums released with LDSB representing one hell of a catalog.
The style of the music has been called many things, by many people over the years. DIY music, or Dark Country/Dark Folk being the most prevalent, or for simplicity sake, it most often gets lumped into the generic Americana catch-all, which I’d argue is a disservice of sorts. For many listeners, it’s bigger than any generic genre labeling. This is music and lyrics that connects deeply with people.
For what it’s worth though, I doubt Tod spends much time thinking about all that, simply saying it’s an honest sound, and the only one he knows. Honest, unfiltered and abrasively raw at times. Tod’s songs tell the tales of his life. A man with a past that, like most of us, hasn’t always been pretty. Loneliness, loss, addiction and darkness were some of Tod’s most loyal companions over those early years and Tod’s lyrics have always reflected that. Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing was recorded intimately and with no frills over just six days.
Just a man, a Gibson acoustic guitar and ten tales to tell of despair and darkness. But, if you listen carefully, there is more importantly, hope, redemption and even forgiveness to be found in these songs as well, which has been a trend that became more noticeable on his previous solo release, “A Heart of Gold is Hard to Find,” and also most recently on LDSB’s Glory, which he has indicated was about “confronting the darkness.”
Now, on Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing, it seems Tod is digging deeper still to confront his past and demons much more directly. One of the record’s oldest songs, “Still Search For You,” grieves the tragic loss of Nicholas Ridout, Tod’s former bandmate and co-conspirator. It’s one of those gut-punch tracks that had to have been conjured during or from some darkness I hope I never experience firsthand.
Another fan favorite and often requested song, “Wyoming,” is a song Tod recorded with Ridout on banjo for LDSB’s second EP and finds itself resurrected here as well.
Fellow dog people like myself will relate with “Mercy Bark”, which depicts Tod mustering the courage to put his terminally ill dog down, while “Tears Worth the Gold” shares his perspective of weighing a meteoric career against the heavy toll it takes on a marriage.
A personal favorite of mine from first listen was, “Terrified to Try,” “Wear your tears with open eyes / Let go of all you hide / Are you living life or too terrified to try?” A really powerful song for those who have overcome any kind of self-destruction tendencies.
The album’s final song “The Paper and the Ink” also stood out for me as a showcase of why Tod’s ability as a songwriter should never be underestimated of shrugged off. Just brilliantly done.
The album has a different feel than its predecessors and more significantly, Tod sounds different here. It’s not a production or levels influence, which I feel compelled to state are excellent by the way. Rather HE sounds different. He sounds stronger, wiser, more evenly tempered and honed. Tod has matured and grown as a man from these experiences he sings about and it shows in his music and actions. It doesn’t matter that some of these songs were written in or about darkness. What stands out most prominently is Tod’s ability to face that darkness again head on, under his own terms with confidence. Tod has always seemed to be on guard and protective. I suppose that goes with the life he’s lived, and that’s got to be a hard thing to turn off. Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing finds Tod, always starkly honest, revealing more vulnerability than he has in the past and that creates something that’s both special and nearly tangible. Consider it a gift.
Lost Dog Street Band will be hitting the road for their Lonesome Farewell Tour beginning September 23rd thru mid October. Following this tour, the band and Tod will be taking a break to focus on priorities closer to home and their hearts. Follow Benjamin Tod, learn more and pick up your copy of Songs I Swore I’d Never Sing through his webpage here: https://www.benjamintodmusic.com/