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Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023

  by Lisa Torem

published: 26 / 5 / 2023

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023


Lisa Torem watches dobro player Rob Ickes and guitarist Trey Hensley play an exceptional set of bluegrass in support of Rodney Crowell at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

“You all ready for some music tonight? Let’s get things started,” guitarist Trey Hensley barked; his smile sincere, a coffee-coloured, ten-gallon hat cocked firmly on head. The native Tennessean’s career blossomed when, at age eleven, he premiered at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. He has since been lauded as a lightning fast picker with an exceptional ear. Rob Ickes lauds a 15-time IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) 'Dobro Player of the Year' record; he helped form Blue Highway, and was sought after by the legendary Earl Scruggs, Merle Haggard and Allison Krause, among others. Tommy Emmanuel has frequently acknowledged Ickes’ technique, hailing the multi-threat musician as an industry gold standard. Together, the duo lit up the Old Town School stage on a clear Sunday night. Their acquired skills brought forth a pantheon of blues, bluegrass, Americana and shades of classic rock. In 2016, ‘Before the Sun Goes Down,’ grabbed a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. In 2019, ‘World Full of Blues’ was also released to great acclaim. Produced by Grammy Award winner Brent Maher (Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry), and with contributions by Vince Gill and Taj Mahal, the record stood in deep contrast to the acts’ previous recordings, in that it was rife with bright Hammond B3 and blazing horns. While the recording spawned nine originals, even the covers sparkled with ingenuity. Needless to say, both men exhibited excellent command of their instruments onstage, but their virtuosity went hand-in-hand with the emotionally-charged material, culled partially from 2023’s ‘Living in a Song’ (also produced by Maher) and gems from the vaults The opener, ‘Brown Eyed Women’ was highly-charged, due to Hensley’s confident strumming and string dampening, and Ickes’s intrepid slide work. At the bridge, the duo ushered in a stark, harmonic contrast. Hensley’s quick-to-the chase reference point; “Brown eyed women in red grenadine,” was sung with nary an exhalation, and framed with clean bass runs. The Grateful Dead cover of ‘Friend of the Devil’ from their sophomore album yielded the expected “stoner” vibe, yet the two took the staple to new heights by juicing up the time signature and embellishing stock passages. ‘Rugged Road,’ scribed by guitarist Robben Ford, and released by Ford and The Blue Line in 1995, was turned on its heel; with vocal rubato. It was also flavoured with a monster riff. For ‘Backstreets of Broadway,’ the songwriters depicted a want-to-be turned has-been after a hopeful trip to Nashville led to disappointment. The story line echoes a familiar theme, unique details make the bittersweet narrative pop. “He can almost taste the fortune and fame.” The dark human thread continued in fresh wound, plain speak: “it can rip you apart” and in the prophetic phrase that the journey” will turn your dreams into nightmares.” The protagonist is forced to confront reality: “When Music Row told him no, he had nowhere to go.” “Best part of my memories are dust clouds in the wind,” Hensley proclaims on ‘Deeper Than a Dirt Road,’ another song which creates immediate word-pictures. The swampy ‘Moonshine Run’ pumped up the pulse, with breathtaking runs, and the pull-together phrase; “The devil’s gonna give you one hell of a ride.” These songs were smartly selected from the new release. ‘Fatal Shore’ featured a mind-melting guitar instrumental. Merle Haggard’s ‘Mama Tried’ hashed up a heap of regret with sentimental overtones. The audience sang along, but clamored for more. Fortunately, the duo came back onstage for a considerable length of time, when main act Rodney Crowell, and his own crew, ploughed through a diverse set of highly original numbers, and with a nod to Chicago musician Jeff Tweedy and his studio—where “the Chicago sessions” took place. The 2023 tour continues until mid-August and in March of 2024, will culminate in Miami, Florida on the longstanding Cayamo Cruise Line. Photos by Jim Summaria www.jimsummariaphoto.com

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Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023

Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley - Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago, 7/5/2023

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