ROB ICKES AND TREY HENSLEY
THE COUNTRY BLUES
Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley’s 2014 debut recording earned a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. They did not win. Perhaps they lost because they had little or no bluegrass on the record, featuring instead drums and electric guitars and lap steel and four Merle Haggard songs, along with some Western Swing, a Stevie Ray Vaughn blues tune, and a couple of outlaw country numbers. They certainly did not lose for lack of quality. The album was highly impressive all through.
This, their second recording, is equally impressive, but probably won’t win Best Bluegrass Album either. What little bluegrass there was on the debut is reduced to the inclusion of Carl Jackson’s banjo on the propulsive original “Everywhere I Go Is A Long Way From Home.” Modified as well is the classic country sound that dominated the debut. While they still honor Merle with a cover of “I Won’t Give Up My Train,” giving Hensley one more go at singing spot-on like Haggard, and while they nod to classic country with Hank Williams’ “May You Never Be Alone,” Ickes and Hensley here focus more on Southern Rock and a Muscle Shoals sound. “Ballad Of A Well Known Gun” has a Marshall Tucker feel and soulful harmony backing from Robinella. The gospel sentiments of “Pray Enough” recall Wet Willie. “Leave My Woman Alone” and the Buddy Emmons instrumental “Biscuits And Gravy” both employ distorted electric guitar and lap steel over full-out drumming. The album then ends on a rumbling acoustic cover of Charlie Daniels’ “Willie Jones,” and a sonically soaring, electric celebration of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “One Way Out.”
Ickes is on his A-game, reso and lap. Guitarist Hensley is on his as well and, with the exception of the Haggard tribute, has settled into a solid personal vocal style. This is a first-rate follow up to a near award-winning debut. (Compass Records, 916 19th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37212, www.compassrecords.com.)BW