Both great songs and big hits come out of Music City, and the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive. By putting his craftsmanship front and center, Trent Dabbs echoes the Nashville ethos that the song always comes first. Dabbs’ artistry, though, digs deeper than most big hits ever dare to. He isn’t content to sing about drinking beer and driving trucks. On The Way We Look at Horses and, in fact, all of his previous efforts, Dabbs explores the emotional depths of love and loss, spirit and sacrifice. He wants the listener to fall into this record, to be fully immersed in it, and to come out the other side somehow changed.
A record that draws you in from the opening strains is a rare gem these days, especially if it’s not full of smoke and mirrors like so many overwrought pop productions. The Way We Look at Horses forsakes the smoke, as well as the mirrors, in favor of ethereal guitars, haunting melodies, compelling lyrics, and lush strings in order to seduce. And it works. But that’s just the first song — the mesmerizing title track that cuts and soothes, evokes and veils all at once. Dabbs has employed the strength and tenderness of horse imagery before, but not to such a great effect as he does here.
Come the second cut, Dabbs ups the ante and the tempo in the closest he’ll get to a straight-forward, all-out country song. In truth, “She’s My Destination” seems more like a piece of levity than anything else. It’s a three-minute respite for the listener to regain their composure and get their bearings before moving on. It’s also a wink and a nod to the iconic musical history of Dabbs’ adopted hometown of Nashville.
Indeed, though he hails from Mississippi, Dabbs’ sound is present-day Nashville through and through, as evidenced so perfectly in tunes like “Mountain Song” and “Midnight Walls”: It’s a little bit country, a little bit rock ‘n roll. In both, big-sky drums open everything up while barroom guitar riffs keep things firmly rooted. Even when a track floats off on a blend of processed percussion and orchestral strings, as in “The Last of Its Kind,” a high lonesome whistle gets tucked into the mix as an almost subliminal signpost pointing toward home.

The second half of the record leans more toward classic singer/songwriter fare, and is no less appealing for it. With its subtle layers, tasteful instrumentation, and shuffling groove, “Confetti Girl” wouldn’t have been out of place on a days-past Shawn Colvin album, either Whole New You or A Few Small Repairs. It just feels like a John Leventhal production, which is never a bad thing to feel like. Further in, a dark, baroque piano adds a tender, new color to the palette with which Dabbs paints the poignant “Time Decides.” Then, on the very next cut, “Start Tomorrow,” he slinks it all up with a Wurlitzer and an R&B-infused vibe.
When it’s all said and done, Dabbs uses pretty much every tool in his very artistic box to build this thing, but it never sounds strained and never feels effortful. Truth be told, it sounds exactly like the way most people look at horses — filled with wonder and longing.
NoiseTraders have two opportunities to grab some free Trent Dabbs goodness with his Career Collection and his duet with Amy Stroup.
This article originally appeared on NoiseTrade.