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Album Review: Dead Horses Find Hope in Bleak Times on ‘Brady Street’

By Lily Rex

When faced with adversity, some people harden and adjust their expectations for others upward, following that well-worn refrain of ‘I went through this, so what happened to you isn’t so bad.’ The new Dead Horses album, Brady Street, is a testament to the power on the other side of the coin, when we become gentler in our treatment of others because we never know what they’re going through.

Lead singer Sarah Vos describes both Brady Street and the duo’s 2018 breakout disc, My Mother the Moon, as records, “filled with songs of hope and the search for beauty, as well as compassion for others—especially strangers.”

Much of making sense of adulthood and relating to other people requires making sense of our childhoods and the ways we and the world we’re in have changed. So naturally, nostalgia, home, and growing up are major themes on Brady Street.

The title track, despite its concrete name, is more indicative of a feeling and an energy than it is of a static place. This is not a story song. It won’t take you to Milwaukee’s Brady Street. Rather, more like a meditation, it will take you to your hometown hangout and how you felt among friends, learning by imitating, trying to figure out where you fit while you were there. It underscores this idea that there’s an objective way to ‘get it right’ in life—an idea that so many of us still grapple with.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

On “Ok Kid” we visit Vos’ personal memories of her brother’s struggles with mental health. The song begins with a childhood scene of playing in a creek, supported by a consistent but subtle drum beat and a jangly mid-tempo electric guitar melody. Blunt, factual statements like “A year ago my brother almost died,” and “Money comes and money goes, sickness hides and sickness shows” catch and keep our attention.

However, it’s a mix of these stark statements and real places with metaphor that lends the album its overall credibility. Vos and bassist Dan Wolff are rooted in reality, a reality that has been so bleak (both personally and in terms of community) during the pandemic, but it’s a reality they’ve nonetheless imbued with hope. “Birds Can Write the Chorus” tells both sides, beginning with a vivid scene, walking us through the story with a dream-like quality:

“Gently woven curls of gold, a mirror to my face, it’s never what I thought it was, it’s never too late. My eyes are all painted on, my skin is all ash. You hide behind your principles. I’ve got my many masks.”

But then, at about the 2:15 mark, the song’s tone transforms, picking up light and speed en route, giving way to the hook: “This can be our story. This can be our song. Birds will write the chorus now, and we’ll all sing along.”

This remains inline with the themes of home and nostalgia. Just as birds—beings that know where they come from and where ‘home’ is, but also know home isn’t always the best place for them to remain—can chart their own path, so can we. In other words, we can hold a place for home within ourselves while also knowing and accepting home’s flaws.

“You Are Who You Need to Be” is where Vos and Wolff break down the fourth wall. It’s the one departure from the memory-and-place aesthetic where they throw down the gauntlet. But, in keeping with the album’s compassionate energy, (“I’ll lend you my hand when the world don’t understand”) it manifests as an affirmation and an offer of help.

Brady Street is a window into times gone by, but one where we examine and carefully consider how the past has shaped us; nobody’s being let off the hook in the name of nostalgia. The duo’s personal stories give us an album of reflective folk-pop tunes that imaginatively navigate dark and light, offering us tools to use at the helm of our own journeys along the way.

Lily Rex (they/she) is a queer, Nashville-based writer obsessed with American history, rivers, and Country/Folk/Americana music. They hail from Northwest Indiana, where they amassed over 600 bylines in three years as a government watchdog reporter for an independent newspaper, and are the author of the poetry chapbook Rivers Have Friends Too (2021). Follow them on Instagram @rexpoet