Dead Horses Offer Reflective Unique Spirituality With “My Mother the Moon” (ALBUM REVIEW)

Wisconsin’s duo, oft expanded to quartet, Dead Horses, have been steadily building a loyal fan base for eight years now. This is their third release and it cites the moon with circles on the disc cover just as the previous two. Moreover, My Mother the Moon was recorded at Cartoon Moon Studio in Nashville with Wilco veteran and drummer Ken Coomer once again producing. It says something about consistency but more importantly, it’s at the heart of singer-songwriter’s Sarah Vos’ spirituality. She believes strongly in interconnectivity; hence the circles. She’s not the first one to go down this path. Neil Young has a few albums with moon in the title too.

Vos and her partner, double bassist, Daniel Wolff take an acoustic, folk-oriented, sometimes classically imbued approach that leaves plenty of space in for Vos’ breathy, husky, emotionally rich vocals. Vos describes their “less is more” approach this way, “You have to have enough wisdom and security and even perhaps confidence to sometimes let these songs breathe.” Joining Vos and Wolff are Ryan Ogburn (mandolin, bouzouki), Coomer (drums), Michael Webb (keyboards on 5 tracks), Diederik van Wassanauer (violin/viola on 2 track) and Lemuel Hayes on drums for “Turntable” and Rachael Davis on banjo for “Swinger in the Trees.” The varying instrumentation enriches the overall sound.

Vos, an uncluttered, clairvoyant lyricist, is clearly the driving force whose scarred backstory makes her a more than credible spokesperson for the rural poor, religious hypocrisy, and a need to build inner spirituality. Already three songs have appeared as singles and/or YouTube favorites: the melodic “A Petal Here, A Petal There,” the jangling “On and On,” and the brooding “Swinger in the Trees.” An in-depth look at the latter reveals much about Vos’ approach to songwriting and the album in general. She drew on the work of poet Robert Frost and it it’s based on the final line of his “Birches,” “One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” “The poem is kind of sad,” Vos says. “He’s suffering, looking back on his childhood and youth. But it’s a kind of beautiful thing, too. That inspired the song, and it fit in well with the (album) in general because so much of the record is me looking at my childhood and adolescence, the way I perceive that and my memory, talking to my former self. It felt similar to Robert Frost’s idea in ‘Birches,’ so I went with that.”

Vos is making progress coping. Expression through song is often cathartic. That, combined with reflections on last year’s election and life on the road form the themes here. It’s Vos’ own kind of gospel. Vos is compared to many female vocalists, some rather obvious, but it seems that she has just enough darkness to put her somewhere between Neko Case and Caitlin Canty. It’s a beautiful instrument.

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