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Now Hear This: Rob Ickes And Trey Hensley | Living In A Song

The bluegrass virtuosos put songwriting first on their fourth full-length release — but still pack their cuts with enough fleet-fingered fretwork to keep your jaw on the floor.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “American roots music has seen its fair share of beloved duos over the years — from The Monroe Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs to modern-day pairs like Milk Carton Kids and The War and Treaty — but few leave audiences as amazed as Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley. Built on the interplay of Ickes’s Dobro and Hensley’s six-string guitar, the only thing outshining the virtuosity of this group’s instrumental performances is their singing and songwriting prowess.

On Living In A Song, Ickes and Hensley made a conscious effort on this release to spotlight their songwriting chops by collaborating with and playing homage to some of Nashville’s finest songwriters. There’s no doubt in anyone’s minds that Ickes and Hensley can hang in the highest realm jam circles, which has been evident since day one of their recording and touring career, but the lesser known (but just as established) side to this duo is their love of, and obsession with, great songs. They love to sing them, they love to record them, they love to write them, and fans will love to listen to them.

Ickes and Hensley re-enlisted Grammy-winning producer Brent Maher (Judds, Merle Haggard, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson) for the project and wrote 30 songs, picking the best to record. The duo made a conscious decision to lean the music in a classic country direction, with some elements of Americana and bluegrass thrown in for good measure. The results of their collaboration show the depth of their musicianship and are stellar.

The title track Living In A Song grew out of their experiences as touring musicians, and according to Hensley, the song practically wrote itself after a long day on the road driving through Ohio. When Hensley digs into the lyrics there is no question that he has lived the story he is telling, lifted up even further when Ickes’ tenor harmony enters the chorus. Deeper Than A Dirt Road is a radio-friendly, feel-good paean to rural living, evoking life in the tiny East Tennessee town where Hensley was raised. And the duo’s rendition of Way Downtown draws its inspiration from Doc Watson’s version recorded 50 years ago on The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Will The Circle Be Unbroken album, giving the duo a chance to trade some tasty licks with fiddle virtuoso Stuart Duncan.

Life’s challenges play a key role in the inspiration for Living In A Song. Is The World Still Turning was the first song written for the project and is a gorgeous broken-hearted love song inspired by the historically unprecedented shutdown at the beginning of the pandemic. I Thought I Saw A Carpenter is another heartfelt ballad, inspired by Ickes’ father’s words as he lay dying from cancer; the emotion that Ickes captures in his Dobro solo is as poignant as any vocal. The album closes with Thanks, a track reminiscent of early Johnny Cash. Hensley wrote words to the melody penned by his friend Lyle Brewer and once he started working on it found that the song arrived quickly, giving him the opportunity to reflect on his love for his family as he put pen to paper. The demo version of the track had such a great feel that it ended up being the master, with producer Maher playing percussion on the back of an old Gretsch guitar.”