This unique collaborative effort between two uniquely gifted musicians—Rob Ickes is a longtime, well established instrumental giant, and Trey Hensley is newly arrived in Music City, bursting with talent both as a vocalist and guitarist—is bound to be a revelation to traditional music fans on several counts. It is the vehicle which first introduces Trey Hensley to much of the bluegrass and country music world. Trey is a young man poised on the edge of an incredibly bright future, steeped as he is in much of what is best in the music. From his powerful yet sympathetic vocal interpretations of traditional and new material, his jaw dropping instrumental skills on both acoustic and electric guitar, and his own considerable songwriting talents, Trey is bursting at the seams with freshness and musical excitement. His resonant baritone voice is rich, expressive and equally at home with classic bluegrass, traditional country, or original compositions from his own hand or written by others. This album promises to be a breath of fresh air on the country music scene today, even while bringing Trey’s comfort and familiarity with traditional country and bluegrass music to the fore. He began playing guitar and singing in his native Jonesborough, Tennessee when he was 10. At 11 he was invited by Marty Stuart to play the Grand Ole Opry and was thrilled when they were joined from the wings by Earl Scruggs with whom he played several times thereafter. Marty remains a fan and a booster. Trey has also in his young life already played with Johnny and June Carter Cash, Charlie Daniels, Ricky Skaggs, Steve Wariner, The Oak Ridge Boys and Janie Fricke. He’s appeared on bills with Sara Evans, Charlie Daniels, Peter Frampton, Randy Owen, Steve Wariner and Marty Stuart and has appeared before President George W. Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush and Vice President Cheney.
Another benefit the album offers is an opportunity to view Rob Ickes, by now an acknowledged master of the dobro and lap steel guitar, outside the box, as it were. Rob has been playing bluegrass with his much decorated band, Blue Highway, for over twenty years, during which time he has been adjudged Bluegrass Dobro Player Of the Year fifteen times. He has also played on countless sessions, recording with artists as diverse as Merle Haggard, Dierks Bentley, Patty Loveless and Alison Krauss. He has also helped form a jazz oriented trio, Three Ring Circle, along with Andy Leftwich and Dave Pomeroy. His most recent recording, THREE BELLS, is a true dobro summit meeting with fellow greats Jerry Douglas and the late Mike Auldridge. He even once received (out of the blue!) an admiring phone call from jazz guitar and harmonica master Toots Thielemans!
One is struck when talking to Rob and Trey by the satisfaction they both feel about what they have produced. The album was recorded mostly live, with minimal overdubs, fixes, punch-ins, or even very many takes and with all the musicians in one room in only a few days of studio time. Rob, the driving force behind the album and the man largely responsible for its being made, says that his favorite albums by the pioneers of the music, the ones that made him want to make music in the first place, were made this way. The spontaneity and sheer joy of creation among a small group of master musicians is palpable in listening to the completed product.
Rob has been a booster since he first heard Trey, a happening that came about in an unusual way. He became aware of the young man’s enormous vocal talent when he heard his scratch vocal (suggested by the album’s engineer) on Rob’s band Blue Highway’s album THE GAME. Wayne Taylor and Tim Stafford of Blue Highway penned the song “My Last Day In The Mine.” The band had initially hoped to have a prominent lead singer outside the band to perform a guest vocal of the song for the album, but found themselves falling in love with the youthful Trey’s evocation of the world weary working man’s fears of leaving the only job he’d ever known. Trey was 22 at the time. His vocal was used on the completed product and has received considerable positive notice, as has the entire album. Shortly thereafter, Trey and his wife Amber relocated to Nashville, and Rob has been showing Trey the ropes.
Completely consumed by country music from an early age as he was, I wondered aloud to Trey how he made it through school. “I just smuggled an iPod into classes,“ he confessed, smiling ruefully. From the evidence offered on this album, I’d say he was listening to the right stuff. Accompanied by some of the finest, most accomplished musicians in Nashville, Rob and Trey tackle a diverse group of songs, put a fresh spin on some old ones, polish up some more recent hits, and offer up an original from Trey, drawing from the music of artists as diverse as Jimmy Martin, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joe Shaver, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Buddy Emmons, Jimmie Rodgers and Bob Wills. In addition to Rob—Trey’s friend, mentor, and co-producer on dobro and lap steel—Trey’s sterling vocals are bolstered by a band which includes Aubrey Haynie or Andy Leftwich on fiddle, the ubiquitous (and mighty fine) Nashville acoustic bassist Mike Bub, and drummer John Gardner, who is rightfully lauded for his sensitivity to the needs of country music in the studio and who has toured with the likes of Don Williams, the Dixie Chicks and The Dead Reckoners, among others. He provides impeccable rhythm throughout. Vocal harmonies or instrumental sweetening are added on one song or another by Jon Randall, Susanne Cox, Dan Tyminski, Shawn Lane, and Ron Block. – Randy Pitts