Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley - Living in a Song
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Living in a Song (Compass, 2023)

Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

Dobro master Rob Ickes and six-string picker Trey Hensley have found the kind of special chemistry we associate with names like Flatt & Scruggs, The Monroe Brothers, The Everly Brothers and other iconic pairings. The two show continued growth in songwriting, and Ickes has proved to be the ideal tenor harmony singer for Hensley's rich vocals. The Grammy nominated duo follow up 2019's excellent "World Full of Blues" with "Living in a Song," their fourth album.

The opening title track is the penultimate troubadour songs, born after a long day on the road driving through Ohio, Hensley's lyrics paint a vivid picture – "Livin' from a suitcase and sleepin' in the car/And scratchin' out a living in another run-down bar" or "Well, I look in the mirror, I don't know who is standing there/All these lines on my face, and all the gray that's in my hair." It's just one example of the 10 tunes they penned with producer Brent Maher or other co-writers.

Ickes and Hensley also cover two standards – Doc Watson's "Way Downtown" and A.P. Carter's "I'm Working on a Building." The vibe runs through classic country, Americana and their roots in bluegrass. Their version of Watson's tune should sound familiar as it is based on Watson's contribution to the classic Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" from five decades ago. Ace fiddler Stuart Duncan joins the duo on the Watson tune and three others.

Other highlights include "Deeper Than A Dirt Road," nodding to the benefits of rural living in East Tennessee where Hensley grew up. "Backstreets of Broadway" tells the all-too-common tale of a fledging troubadour thinking he could make it big in Nashville, only to be relegated to virtually homeless status. The duo amp up from their typical acoustic posture on , "Moonshine Run" with Rob on lap steel and Trey on electric guitar, giving the tune a rock n' roll energy. Lyric credits go to the stellar Thomm Jutz. Here's just an example from the chorus - "That river's bridge cuts the town in two / Between the common day sinners and the chosen few."

On the quieter, more traditional side, there are more tender love songs – "Just Because," the pandemic-oriented "Is the World Still Turning," the deeply emotive "I Thought I Saw a Carpenter," and the Johnny Cash inspired closer, "Thanks." Instrumentally and vocally, this is superb throughout.

CDs by Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley

Living in a Song, 2023 The Country Blues, 2016 Before the Sun Goes Down, 2015

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