Lost Dog Street Band Preview New Album “Survived” in Pittsburgh

Benjamin Tod (photo: Brian Turnwald)

Editor’s Note: This article was written by freelance journalist, and long-time Saving Country Music reader/commenter Matthew Bashioum.

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The difference between suffering and struggling is your tolerance, and the fiercely independent and self-sufficient Benjamin Tod has tolerated enough struggle for a lifetime. By recently acknowledging he has been his biggest inhibitor to his own success, he has started to yield to the system in hopes of giving his music the opportunity to breathe and reach the masses.

If it’s working with a renowned producer and recording in a professional studio, shopping his upcoming honky tonk concept album to the major labels, touring with a full band, or accepting an invite to the Grand Ole Opry, this is a much more focused and collaborative Benjamin Tod that has found redemption in his living art and peace in his place in the world.

Tod, an admitted thief and felon (“I have warrants in more states than you’ve been to”), and his Outlaw, punk/folk outfit the Lost Dog Street Band’s origins were train hopping and busking across this county. It was a dangerous and chaotic life fighting for attention by screaming out lyrics while hammering on strings that has admittedly taken its toll on Tod’s voice and body: “I physically can’t take on the responsibility of filling the sound of a string band guitarist anymore.”

Drug and alcohol addiction mixed with violence were regular elements of the tumultuous lifestyle of the homeless transcendental community. Tod admits on the Honky Tonk Heroes podcast with Kyle Amaral that fellow busking companion and collaborator, Sierra Ferrell (his “Yankee” sister), they had some harrowing moments over a decade ago in a blackout confrontation.

But like himself, his relationship with Ferrell has survived those early, troublesome street performer days. However, these days Tod is finding it more difficult to constantly play songs born from that era like “Using Again” (an immature version of himself that he’s outgrew) and has often tried to kill off Lost Dog Street Band.

It’s by accident Lost Dog Street Band is even releasing a new album and touring. In interviews, Tod sounds most excited and focused on his conceptualized solo honky tonk album due out this fall. The album which has a different production era for each track spans the history of country music from the mid-50s to the mid-90s and was recorded at the Bomb Shelter in Nashville using legendary “Nashville Cats” studio musicians.

Tod initially thought of using a few castaway songs from the forthcoming album that didn’t fit the honky tonk aesthetic and packaging them with re-recordings of five Lost Dog Street standards for a new Lost Dog Street album. But from this rejuvenated creative surge found from making the honky tonk album, Tod had a writing spell that produced five more songs including what he calls the greatest song he ever wrote and the title track of the new album, Survived out April 26th.

On Saturday night, Benjamin Tod with the Lost Dog Street Band pulled into Pittsburgh for a sold out show at the Thunderbird Café. It was only the 3rd date on this tour, but the extended band sounded pristine and tight. Flanked up front and center to Tod was his devoted partner and talented wife Ashley Mae on fiddle, and longtime upright bassist Jeff Loops. New band members Ben Duvall on drums and Tebbs Karney on pedal steel set up in the back.

The first three songs of the night’s set were from the upcoming Survived album including the lead single “Brighter Shade,” the cover of Larry Murray’s ’70s folk standard, “The Hubbardville Store,” and the excellent waltz “Lifetime of Work” that is Tod’s personal experience with labor being the way he shows affection. The theme of loving the process of work and utility as pride is new and prevalent in recent songs as he views performing music more as his part-time gig and his true life’s work is farming and managing his 400 acres in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky.

After a brand new song called “Shooting Star” that took aim at Nashville (“Music City on the rise, I’ve always been denied”), the much appreciative and attentive crowd got rewarded with some Lost Dog Street Band standards.

Tod credits Sierra Ferrell with teaching him Steve Earle’s “The Mountain” when busking together in Seattle, Washington almost 15 years ago, but she taught him it in 2/4 time instead of a waltz. With Tod howling the lyrics and the drummer matching the crowd’s stomping feet with the pedal and fiddle giving voice to the ghosts in the tunnels, Lost Dog Street Band delivered the most rousing, spirited (and sometimes unhinged version) of this song.

Although at times it sounds like Tod is ready to move on from fan favorite “Using Again,” he knows the song belongs to his fans and they matched him note for note as a choir of 540 sang along in great appreciation and measured admiration.

After a haunting version of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die,” the band returned for a string of Lost Dog Street Band favorites that concluded with “September Doves.” The encore included an amped-up version of “Wyoming” and finished with the powerful minor waltz and album title track, “Survived”—a song about finding redemption through the hell one puts him or herself self through:

There’s a heavy weight at the burning stake
Living like you had died
Attrition takes at the pearly gates
Lord I have survived, Lord how have I survived

Opening the show were husband (Keith Smith) and wife (Sparrow) vintage American Folk duo, The Resonant Rogues, hailing from the Blueridge Mountains of North Carolina. Either by her soaring singing, playing the accordion, or clawhammer banjo, Sparrow is a talented force. Their song “93,500 Miles” from their self-titled album features Sierra Ferrell.

Lost Dog Street Band Setlist at Thunderbird Café & Music Hall, Pittsburgh, PA, April 20, 2024:

1. Brighter Shade
2. Hubbardville Store
3. Lifetime of Work
4. Shooting Star
5. The Mountain
6. Using Again
7. Waiting Around to Die
8. War Inside of Me
9. If You Leave Me Now
10. Lazy Moonshiner
11. September Doves
12. Wyoming
13. Survived

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