Trent Dabbs’ eighth release, The Way We Look at Horses, treads familiar territory for the Nashville singer-songwriter. It is a collection of songs dealing with concepts of love, loss, death, and spiritual discovery. The title track references equine therapy and how a spiritual connection with horse and rider can help uncover buried feelings and deal with emotional trauma.
It is that theme of healing through discovery that ties the album together, from the dream-like haze of the opening title track to the denoument. Sometimes healing means getting away from the pain, hoping distance will put things in perspective. “I’m just going to drive. Don’t know what I aim to find. Keep me in your prayers and I’ll keep you in my mind,” Dabbs sings in “Mountain Song.” Other times healing means admitting that you’re afraid to let go of a relationship, even if you know it’s not working, as in “Last of Its Kind.”
The album’s best track, “Start Tomorrow,” finds Dabbs coming to terms with his weakness and desiring to change, though that’s always easier to vow than to put into practice. “If I’m going to be a better man then I guess I’m going to have to start tomorrow,” he says.
The Way We Look at Horses manages to tackle emotional subjects while remaining low key. Sonically it is a subdued album characterized by gentle acoustic strumming and swirling string sections. Dabbs’ voice is soft and inviting, as if he is lying back on his couch strumming his guitar and quietly singing to no one in particular. “Start Tomorrow” and the fretboard-hammering “She’s My Destination” stand out as the only upbeat, hook-filled songs in an otherwise muted album. Similarly, “Last of its Kind” tries too hard and stands out as a lone misfire, with overbearing strings and electronic drums making the song feel overproduced.
Just as healing is a long process where the effects are not immediately apparent, The Way We Look at Horses takes time to fully digest. No easy answers are given. Instead, Dabbs raises questions and explores the murky nature of pain and sorrow with a hefty dose of ambiguity. “The same road that lead you here is leading you astray,” he sings on “Thousand Nights.” It’s a revelation that at first may seem confusing, but its discovery is the first step towards healing.