Following the success of The Magnolia Sessions Season 1, Anti-Corporate Music/Black Matter Mastering owner Dan Emery returns with more live stripped-down recordings that are carried out in a secluded outdoor setting by a large magnolia tree at their headquarters in Nashville. Such an incredibly unique concept, the series showcases some fascinating bluegrass, dark country, and folk singer/songwriter acts and has seen heartfelt releases from Matt Heckler, Cristina Vane, Angela Autumn, and Ivan Macleod to name but a few.
As previewed by The Sleeping Shaman in September, Emery picked his close friends to kick off the second series and record an incredible session with Lost Dog Street Band. For those unfamiliar with the artists, their story is as fascinating and heart wrenchingly soulful as the music that they create.
Formed in 2010 by husband-and-wife duo, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Tod and fiddle player Ashley Mae, they dedicated themselves to carrying the tradition of the American troubadour and hopped trains, hitchhiking across the country while delivering their unique brand of original songwriting and tragic storytelling.
In the summer of 2011, they formed the band Spit Shine with Nicholas and Shannon Ridout, two musicians traveling from the Pacific Northwest and the four became as close as a family until Nicholas’s tragic death in the spring of 2013. In the aftermath, they resurrected Lost Dog Street Band and deliver their story playing dark folk, keeping their friends work alive by sharing his music at the end of every show they play.
The tale of their recording session is equally steeped in love and tragedy as following a day’s work on their farm, Benjamin and Ashley drove up to Nashville to find that Emery’s dog Ichi, was on her death bed and having been present for all the band’s recordings, she was afforded comfort and to be part of the session one last time. In fact, her barks can be faintly heard on the recording, unintentionally adding more weight to the emotionally charged atmosphere.
Presenting covers of standards by the likes of Bob Dylan, Guy Clark, Willie Watson, and a couple of their own deep cuts in stripped-down form for those familiar with their back catalogue, including a fantastic version of the Townes Van Zandt song Lungs, Tod and Mae cut these nine tracks in this intimate environment that feels like friends gathering around the campfire at the end of a long day, giving the session a surprisingly powerful atmosphere.
the plucked strings of the guitar, and the fiddle of Mae in harmony with Tod’s soulful and raw intoning vocals…
Starting off with the upbeat Shady Grove, Lost Dog Street Band gives you the best example of American troubadour music, the plucked strings of the guitar, and the fiddle of Mae in harmony with Tod’s soulful and raw intoning vocals. Throughout the recording, you can hear the background of the fire, chirping of insects, and other noises making this feel like a private gig and closing your eyes, you can picture the husband-and-wife duo underneath the tree that gives rise to the name of the sessions as the evening draws in.
This is an album that doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings but drags them from you, the beautiful simplicity of the music and the format belies the intense emotional weight that’s carried within such songs. For example, the album closer Ballad Of A Broken Man, a track that dares you to listen and defies you not to cry, whatever your religious predilections, with a tale of regret and sorrow. It’s hard not to connect with the soulful emotion of tracks like From The Day You Were Born, a song of love, regret, striving for penitence, and yet at the same time consumed with hope and faith.
Music is at its most effective when it’s simple, and the chemistry created between Tod on guitar and Ashley on the fiddle, even when peppered by harmonica, is just beautiful in the unfussy call and response nature. The beauty in the stripped-down aesthetic of the relationship between the two musicians is rich and compassionate, and in many ways feels raw and honest, in a way that’s hard to capture but evokes the very ethos of these sessions and captures something truly special.
The impassioned plea of Shady Grove, an ode to a place of comfort, is passionate and Shaman preview track Carmelita (Warren Zavon) is so mournfully touching it could make a glass eye weep. The aforementioned Van Zandt cover is executed with such passion and skill, they take a dark country folk song, written by one of the all-time great artists, and treat it with reverence and make it as relevant as the original, despite their own twist on it.
One of the things that makes Lost Dog Street Band session so distinct is how timeless and authentic it feels. You could close your eyes, imagine you’re halfway through the Great Depression and the duo are hitching a ride with you and singing in the corner of the car you’re sharing. Equally, in a world consumed with technology and interconnectedness that seemingly takes us away from our core self as humans, this music speaks past all of that and transcends time itself back to the origin of blues and folk songs being sung by slave hands in the field who, despite all the pain and heartache, there’s a reverence and a hope that’s found within.
The Magnolia Sessions are a fantastic concept and something endearingly unique. By using artists like Lost Dog Street Band, they take a format that’s uncomplicated and present it in a way that is fresh. As someone who spends a lot of time writing about complex and heavy music, when something comes along like this, it’s a timely reminder to stop and just listen, leaving the experience all the richer for it.
Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden