Growing up in the 80s and 90s in rural Tennessee, I am not ashamed to say I hated “country music.” Here’s the thing, though; it wasn’t until my late teens and early 20s that I really learned the Nashville pop they play on the radio has no relation to classic country like Patsy Cline or the outlaw styles of Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Merle, Linda, or David Allan Coe.
Luckily, outside the glitzy world of Nashville’s mainstream country scene, there is still a wealth of singer/songwriters in the newgrass and alt country world that are keeping the original spirit of old country music alive. When I saw one such artist, Benjamin Tod of the Lost Dog Street Band, had a new solo album, I jumped at the chance to give it a few spins.
I was familiar with Tod through one of my best friends, Rachel. She often sends me music links much, of it tending to be either Arabic bellydance, alt country, and folk and singer/songwriter stuff along the lines of Townes Van Zandt. She introduced me to Lost Dog Street Band initially and a few others of similar caliber. Having strongly supported the alt country and newgrass movement since Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ first album in the 90s, I definitely wanted to get my hands on Heart Of Gold Is Hard To Find to give it a go. I was not let down.
Today’s mainstream country scene seems to suffer from a crisis of conscience. Synth fiddles, snap tracks and auto-tune may have their place somewhere, but please get them far away from the Grand Ole Opry. I’m always thankful for the likes of Benjamin Tod and others who keep alive real country.
Benjamin Tod’s A Heart of Gold is as pared down and heartwrenching as classic Townes, with writing that stands up any day to the songwriting talents of John Prine. Speaking of Prine, Benjamin hails from Tennessee but currently calls home a bit of acreage in Muhlenberg County, a place Prine said Paradise lay and “where the air smelled like snakes.”
A Heart Of Gold Is Hard To Find is jam packed with touching songs marked by excellent lyrics and equally excellent Travis picking. This second album from Tod is a bit of dark country that’s perfectly suited to win over the “I hate country” set and possibly even convert the “Nashville pop is alright” crew while we’re at it.
As I mentioned when requesting the album from the Anti-Corporate Music label for review, I feel like Benjamin Tod and labelmates like Matthew Heckler of the Lost Dog Street Band are a great antidote to the “Nashville pop” with the snap tracks and synth fiddles. Benjamin Tod is the real deal. When it comes down to it, if I had to boil down this album review to one word, that would be the gist. This intensely personal but relatable album is nothing if not genuine.