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Rob Ickes & Trey HensleyRob Ickes & Trey Hensley
Album: The Country Blues
Label: Compass
Tracks: 11

Dobro master Rob and guitarist/singer par excellence Trey first collaborated on disc not all that long ago with their excellent duo album Before The Sun Goes Down, which received many nominations and commendations. For their followup project, the bluegrass concentration of that debut has been expanded into wider musical pastures that embrace Americana, jazz, soulful southern rock and even rootsy funk. Having said that, the driving bluegrass of Everywhere I Go Is A Long Way From Home provides one of the disc's undoubted high spots, and fulfils all expectations, not least as an incidental vehicle for some brilliant picking.

The set kicks off in style with the undersung Americana of Elton John's Tumbleweed Connection classic Ballad Of A Well Known Gun, and during the course of its generous 49 minutes moves on along through almost any roots sub-genre bar Country Blues itself - which is rather ironic considering the album's title!… Trading solos and licks like nobody's business, Rob and Trey bring real-deal music-making to the forefront on this project - just sample the entirely natural-sounding exchanges on their spirited take on the Merle Haggard number I Won't Give Up My Train, for instance. It's great that Trey's distinctive vocal work is well in evidence throughout this latest album too - notably on the sanguine That's What Leaving's For and the authentically desolate honky-tonk of Hank Williams' May You Never Be Alone. Rob and Trey also turn in a superb account of the Garcia-Hunter staple Friend Of The Devil, whose centrepiece is a stupendous acoustic guitar solo (this one's a real dazzler in their live shows, apparently). And I love the way the dobro mirrors and matches the vocal on cuts like The Wood Brothers' Pray Enough.

But perhaps the disc's most obvious showstopper is Leave My Woman Alone, which here storms on as a breakneck rockabilly dash complete with stunning duelling electric guitar and fiddle breaks. Unexpectedly perhaps, the album closes on the full-on electric blues One Way Out (aka It's A Man Down There), credited to Sonny Boy Williamson. The disc's lone instrumental Biscuits And Gravy, conceived by Rob as a tribute to pedal steel maestro Buddy Emmons, contains an abundance of creative treated electric guitar work as well as a killer fiddle solo from (I believe) guest Aubrey Haynie. Other musicians and singers listed on the album session sheets include Ron Block, Vince Gill, Carl Jackson, Andy Leftwich, Shawn Lane and John Randall Stewart.

Rob and Trey clearly have a healthy future ahead of them in duo collaboration, with plenty more to say to each other in their sparky musical dialogues.

David Kidman