Rob Ickes with Blue Highway Big Time

Rob Ickes is one of the finest dobro players working today. Balancing time between session player and solo artist, Ickes has racked up awards and accolades for applying steel to string in ever more exciting ways. Trading in the jazz stylings of 2002's What It Is, Big Time finds Ickes climbing into the clear mountain air with as finely crafted a bluegrass album as you're likely to find this year. Backed by Blue Highway, Ickes leads the band through a compelling traditional arrangement of Carter's "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes" and a haunting soul search on Monroe's "Lonesome Moonlight Waltz.” The high octane "Machine Gun Kelly" that kicks off the album will make you view writer James Taylor in a new, cooler light. And on "Lost Indian" you'll think the track is playing at double speed because I'm fairly certain no mortal can play dobro that fast. Ickes offers two instrumentals from the shores of Ireland ("Matt Hyland,” "Ireland, Love of My Heart"), giving us a wealth of blue notes in each and simultaneously drawing the evolution clearly from the old world folk music to Americana roots music. "Wayfaring Stranger" is Ickes at his best. He takes a melody so sad it could pull tears from stone and soaks it in pure dobro tone. Slide is one of the most evocative styles of guitar; there’s something about slippery notes, never consenting to a stationary voicing, that can push traditional melodies to new places and find new emotions. Ickes's playing is clean and bright, he works the resonator cone magically to give us maximum dobro tone, a sound that is unmistakable, even when surrounded by a band full of other strings. Big Time is one big good time. (Rounder)