By Hal Horowitz
On Living in a Song, the duo refuse to be confined to one style.
Those experiencing a typical concert from Dobro master Rob Ickes and guitarist/singer Trey Hensley usually leave with jaws scraping the floor, blown away by the blinding fret-slashing abilities of the two musicians.
While these world class musical talents are extraordinary, incorporating their ability into quality tunes on more structured studio recordings can be challenging. Thankfully the pair have experience in this, creating three previous albums of mostly bluegrass-oriented material that dip into country and even blues.
Their 2016 release The Country Blues nodded as such and in 2019 they worked with iconic bluesman Taj Mahal, for whom they opened a series of shows on that year’s rootsy ‘World Full of Blues’. So pleased with those results, they’ve rehired famed producer Brent Maher (founder of The Judds and producer of all their albums, among many others) for album number four.
While the blues and bluegrass influences remain, here Ickes and Hensley veer further towards country and Americana. the pair have brought in outside writers to assist in penning melodies that, even away from the live on-stage wizardry, remain impressive. It helps that Hensley possesses a strikingly resonate, emotional voice, one that makes him a potent singer outside of his superb finger-picking ability. Ickes’ joins in mostly on harmonies, sparking these selections into subtly crafted duets.
The bittersweet opening ballad holds its own in a long history of ‘Running on Empty’/ road weary songs. It rings with a poignant twinge of reality (“Every single mile I travel/seems to take a year from me”), aided by one of Hensley’s most expressive performances. On ‘Moonshine Run’, he tells of the dangers of running liquor across state lines, in a story that wouldn’t be out of place on a Steve Earle album. It also finds them plugging in overdubbed electric guitars for a rare fleeting adventure outside their typically acoustic arena, a style they might want to explore more broadly.
Just in case you’ve missed their bluegrass side, they let it rip on a frantic cover of Doc Watson’s ‘Way Downtown’, before injecting Cajun into the mix for ‘Louisiana Woman’, layering in accordion and fiddle to make that two-step connection even stronger. On ‘Just Because’, Ickes’ Dobro backs the duo’s charming harmonies to enrich a honeyed love song that’s a highlight of these dozen gems.
On the appropriately titled Living in a Song, Ickes and Hensley refuse to be confined to one style or, as speed demon string players, putting blinding technical ability above compositional integrity. Their songwriting establishes them as journeyman musicians and originators, whose work stands amongst Nashville’s finest.
Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley's 2023 album, Living In A Song, is released February 10th via Compass Records. You can purchase the album via one of Holler's selected partners below: