This truly dynamic duo, steeped in the traditions of American roots music, brings together a 15-time International Bluegrass Music Association Dobro Player of the Year with a flatpicking guitar phenom who at age 11 made his Grand Ole Opry debut with Earl Scruggs and Marty Stuart. Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley have collaborated with a wide range of musicians, including Tommy Emmanuel, Taj Mahal, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, David Grisman, and Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna, to name some.
Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley
Living in a Song
Their latest release, Living in a Song, builds on their three previous duo albums. The top-notch musicianship remains with Ickes playing his Byrl Murdoch flamed maple shallow body resonator and a 1940s Oahu Tonemaster lap steel, while Hensley holds down the guitar duties with a Gibson J-200, a 1954 Martin D-28, and a Chuck Tipton Telecaster-style electric. However, the focus of this effort is more on showcasing their songwriting abilities than their evident instrumental virtuosity, and in that vein the album hits the bullseye. There are 12 songs, ten of them cowritten by Ickes and Hensley along with Lyle Brewer and Grammy Award–winning producer Brent Maher. The remaining two songs are the traditional classic “Way Downtown” and the classic old blues-gospel song “I’m Working on a Building,” which Bill Monroe turned into a bluegrass standard. Ickes and Hensley make a conscious effort to tip their hats to the classic Nashville sound and country troubadours past and present.
Hensley’s resonant voice is the perfect vehicle for these tunes. On the title track, “Living in a Song,”he sings with conviction about a musician’s life on the road. There is an art to accompanying a singer, and Ickes is a master at it—his lap steel playing on this cut brings to mind the late, great David Lindley. Ickes also steps out on this release by singing more harmonies than on their previous albums, adding depth to the overall sound.
If you are a fan of classic country, this album should be right in your wheelhouse, and if you are looking for hot licks just check out “Way Downtown” or “I’m Working on a Building”: The notes seem to explode from Ickes’ Byrl and Hensley’s Martin. Ickes and Hensley have served notice that they are a force to be reckoned with, now and in the future.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.