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Rob Ickes is the sideman par excellence, well-known for his vibrant resonator guitar work and, here, offers a glimpse at his considerable lap steel skills. Trey Hensley is a guitarist and vocalist with a world of talent. As is often the case, the sideman, name or not, becomes the supporter and mentor, and the lead singer becomes the focus. Most likely, that was the aim of this very good project.
There can be little doubt that the 12 songs chosen were done so with Hensley in mind. Hensley has a wonderfully pliable, country baritone lead, and it should be no surprise that country music sources and settings (including drums and occasional electric guitar and lap steel) dominate. Three of the tracks are lesser-known Merle Haggard tunes, among them “I’d Rather Be Gone,” and “When My Last Song Is Sung,” which reflect Haggard at his emotional best as a writer. They stand beside Billy Joe Shaver’s paean to country-boy self-justification, “Georgia On A Fast Train,” and beside the get-straight admonition of “There Ain’t No Good Chain Gang.” Hensley and Ickes also duet on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Pride And Joy,” showcasing their fluid blues chops. That’s echoed by an electric guitar/lap steel cover of Buddy Emmons’ instrumental “Raisin’ The Dickens,” which nicely sets up another Western Swing tune, the classic Wills/Duncan tearjerker “Misery.” Bluegrass is represented with “Before The Sun Goes Down” and “Little Cabin Home On The Hill,” though you’d hardly know them as bluegrass from these interpretations. The title tune, shuffle country at its best, is a highlight.
As good as Hensley (and this recording) is, he must make an adjustment. Ickes long ago found his “voice.” Hensley needs to do so as well. Channeling Haggard (on no less than five tracks) and using Vaughn and Shaver inflections on their own songs, will only take you so far. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BW