REVIEW: Ickes & Hensley’s Latest is a Blow Away Outstanding “World Full Blues”

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On October 4, Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley released World Full of Blues, the duo’s third full-length album, on Compass Records. Grammy winner Brent Maher produced the guys this time at his Nashville studio, The Blueroom, adding B3 and some horns to the duo’s resonator/flattop, upright bass and drums configuration. Taj Mahal and Vince Gill guest. The supporting players here are a talented bunch. I understand they recorded with minimal overdubs. Jim Hoke does some horn arranging and playing. Other than him, though, I can’t find – and honestly I’ve tried – who played on the record other than Ickes, Hensley and their two famous guests.

Musically, these guys are just blow away outstanding. They’ve taken the downhome fiddle-on-the-porch sound from their last record, Before the Sun Goes Down, out to the gear-stripping highway. You can feel the downshift as you head over the rise repeatedly throughout the record. I do love that wonderful golden hour cover shot on Before the Sun Goes Down, but everything else about this new one is more to my liking.

Not surprisingly then, my favorite is “Rugged Road,” an amazing cover of Robert Ford’s song, that should have been the title of the album. It’s an F-150 of a song that shows these guys off just right with all the new instrumentation. And the lyrics are right, you know. Not too much of anything.

“Thirty Days” is an interesting rehab song, I guess. I can’t tell for sure. I wish they’d started with the verse that explains why 30 days is such a long time to pay. Because up until that point, I found myself wondering more than focusing. But the B3 and solo that follows that key verse makes it all worth it.

“The Fatal Shore” is a Bettsian instrumental reminiscent of the Allman Brothers that once again shows these guys off well.

The title track is a well-crafted song that suffers from the same malady as a lot of similar hell-in-handbasket songs coming out these days. I subscribe to Steve Van Zandt’s view that the time to be political is when people need to hear it. Nowadays, you can’t NOT hear it. But maybe there’s an audience that needs to hear these guys do it? Anyway, hearing Taj sing, “you can choose our news, whatever lights your fuse, but that ain’t gonna fix a thing” almost makes it all worth it. But then “Nobody Can Tell Me I Can’t” seems to take it all back. I get it that it’s a cool title and makes for a good song. But if you are going to go political, you have to speak with one voice, don’t you? I’m going with yes, you do. And there was so much potential here to make this song reinforce World Full of Blues. “I was born in the land of the free” could have been followed up with something so much better than “whatever I do is up to me.”

But enough of that, “There’s Always Something to Remind Me of You” brings back warm memories of Bacharach & David’s “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me.” After a hard day of working, you park the truck in the driveway and deal with the memories. When you conjure a lyrical master like Hal David, you need to deliver the goods. And this one does. Curiously, they don’t mention this song in the piece about the new album on the Ickes and Hensley website. It’s a winner. And totally as an aside, can you believe that when you search on “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” the Naked Eyes version comes up on top. Google sucks.

“Both Ends of My Rainbow” is interesting in that it seems like it’s gonna be a happy song both from the title, instrumentation, and even the delivery of the lyric. (And if you read the blurb on the guys’ website – “Hensley offers [an] optimistic life-on-the-road song.”) Yet, it has a dark underbelly that’s there in plain sight. “My pockets are all full of cigarettes. My money’s blown, my whisky’s gone, and I’m full of regrets.” Yup, that’s what happens when you chase rainbows. If only “Nobody Can Tell Me I Can’t” had a similar sensibility.

World Full of Blues gets its truth in my book in the amazing “Suzanne” about an old flame that repeatedly runs to the singer’s friends. The guys switch instruments on this one with Rob playing his grandpa’s old Montgomery Ward guitar and Trey playing an old resonator. This one’s the blues, buddy. “I see you got your shoes on.” Now that’s a blues lyric if there ever was one. And the geographic cross-references back to the opening “Born with The Blues” make the story seem real.  Does he really have a “freight hoppin’ friend” or is it just another way of saying that old Suzanne is not particularly picky. Yeah, that’s the blues alright.

You can get more information about the band and buy the album on the Ikes and Hensley website.

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