A veteran of the Canadian blues battle, Rick Fines—previously of Jackson Delta and with a handful of Maple Blues Awards since—takes a low-key, personal approach to his folk-blues on his latest release, Solar Powered Too.
With half the album recorded solo in his solar-powered, tree-surrounded gazebo, there is a natural, solitary quality to the release: it is impossible to hide when its just you, a couple guitars, and the crickets.
I find the unembellished songs most engaging. A couple have limited overdubs added, but they retain the sparse nature of their original take. There is something special about just listening to a songwriter present his songs unadorned.
On songs like “Dark Days,” “Below the Surface,” and “Laundry on the Line,” Fines isn’t out to impress anyone but himself. The results are appealing, songs presented as organically as possible. The connection between musician and listener is fully engaged, with the lyrics and sparse reso notes of “Dark Days” piercing the distance between the two; it is one of two songs on which Roly Platt provides harmonica accompaniment.
Several songs have been fleshed out in the studio—musicians include Alec Fraser (basses), Gary Craig (drums and such), Bowskill (mandolin, mandola, fiddle, and pedal steel), and Rob Phillips (piano)—but even these tracks, including the kiss-off “You Only Want Me When You Need Me” (with vocals from the Delta Sugar trio of Samantha Martin, Sherie Marshall, and Stacie Tabb) and the gripping “Yellow Moon, Indigo Sky” (featuring Suzie Vinnick on harmony) are not so layered as to take away the intimacy of Fines’ performance. The trio treatment afforded “Live Forever,” “Never Let Go” and Jesse Winchester’s “That’s What Makes You Strong” make them additional highlights.
The album concludes with “Scared to Dance,” again just Fines and his resonator guitar, seemingly playing to the darkness of the woods and insects, but actually performed in a Toronto studio. Still, with just his guitar, Fines gleams. The ‘band’ tracks are good, take nothing away from the quality of Solar Powered Too, and even provide the album with needed variety.
A well-balanced, unhurried album of folk and blues sounds. Strongly recommended. Best tracks: “Below the Surface,” “Dark Days,” “Yellow Moon, Indigo Sky,” and “Scared to Dance.”