Press photo © Stacie Huckeba

‘World Full of Blues’: The Return of Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley

On their third album, World Full of Blues, Americana guitar masters Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley expand their horizons, while still playing up a storm.

World Full of Blues
Rob Ickes & Trey Hensley
Compass Records
04 October 2019

“Mike Auldridge is the best damn dobro player in the world today,” declared my father while we sat around a Sunday dinner table many years ago. Auldridge, a founding member of progressive bluegrass band the Seldom Scene was, indeed, considered by many dobro aficionados to be the finest player of that instrument.

Among those Auldridge fans was a 13-year-old named Rob Ickes, who took up the dobro after hearing Auldridge’s music. Ickes went on to become a founder of acclaimed bluegrass band Blue Highway in 1994. I’d like to continue the family tradition and proclaim Ickes the best damn dobro player in the world today, but it’s not necessary: the International Bluegrass Music Association has presented its Dobro Player of the Year award to Ickes a record-breaking 15 times.

Meanwhile, guitar prodigy and singer Trey Hensley first stepped on the Grand Ole Opry stage at age 11, playing A.P. Carter’s “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy” with Marty Stuart and Earl Scruggs, who popularized the song with the Foggy Mountain Boys. It wouldn’t be the last time Hensley hit the Opry stage.

It wasn’t destiny that brought Ickes and Hensley together — it was actually a temporary “scratch” vocal that Hensley recorded for a Blue Highway album that Ickes heard and liked — but their meeting was fortuitous for anyone who enjoys any type of music that can be described as Americana. Ickes’ and Hensley’s formal musical partnership began with the release of Before the Sun Goes Down in 2015, followed by The Country Blues in 2016. Their new album, World Full of Blues, finds the duo branching out in a wide array of directions, unleashing all manner of guitar-playing fireworks along the way. Producer Brent Maher recorded World Full of Blues live in the studio, fully capturing the energy of everyone involved.

Opening track “Born with the Blues”, an on-the-lam rocker, sets the stage with typically incendiary guitar interplay, but also brings the sounds of a Hammond B3 organ and a horn section into the mix. These are welcome musical elements that enliven many of the songs on World Full of Blues.

Ickes and Hensley keep up the momentum of “Born with the Blues” with “Brown-Eyed Women”, which features Vince Gill on vocals. While Deadheads will immediately recognize “Brown-Eyed Women” as a Grateful Dead tune, those who aren’t as familiar with that band might gain a new appreciation for the Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter songwriting team with this strong cover.

In addition to Gill, Ickes and Hensley invited blues artist Taj Mahal to the studio, and his singing and National Resonator guitar playing are highlighted on the album’s title track, a state-of-the-world message that points out that the world is a mess, without getting too bogged down in details.

World Full of Blues is certainly meant to be a showcase for fancy dobro and guitar picking, but it would be a shame to let other aspects of the album be overlooked. Hensley and Ickes wrote or co-wrote most of the songs and there isn’t a bad tune to be found, from the blues/rock shuffle “Thirty Days” to the road song “Both Ends of My Rainbow”. Besides “Brown Eyed Women”, the only song that Ickes and/or Hensley do not have a songwriting credit on is the high-energy rendition of Robben Ford’s “Rugged Road” that closes the album.

It should be also noted that Trey Hensley, an avowed Merle Haggard fan, is one hell of a country singer, who sounds great throughout but particularly shines on two ballads — “I’m Here But I’m Lonely” and “There’s Always Something to Remind Me of You” – that would have been hailed as instant “hard country” classics back in the 1970s.

Mike Auldridge and my dad have both passed on, but I think they would both genuinely love World Full of Blues. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

RATING 8 / 10