The Rick Fines Trio,
Riley Wants His Life Back
(self-produced, 2003)

The cover art on Riley Wants His Life Back, Rick Fines' latest release, features a gilt-edged frame around a nostalgic mix of flowers, musical instruments, baubles and beads -- the treasures found at an antique store. It's an apt choice for this satisfying collection of new "old" songs.

Fines, of Peterborough, Ontario, the former leader of the Jackson Delta Trio, is a successful solo artist and an outstanding guitarist. As a new project, he decided to write a collection of songs for his trio (Rob Phillips, piano, and Richard Simkins, bass) emulating the great jazz/blues/ragtime trios of the 1930s and '40s. His liner notes credit the influences of Charles Brown, Nat Cole, T-Bone Walker and Billie Holiday, among others.

While Fines is best known for his guitar prowess, this collection proves that he's a very able songwriter. He wrote all the material on this record, achieving an honest and authentic feel throughout. His slightly nasal, easygoing voice suits the songs perfectly and the musicianship is always excellent. The trio is supported appropriately by Peter Andree (accordion), Matthew Fines (dobro), Al Webster (drums) and Chris Whiteley (trumpet and cornet). This polished, evenly paced CD was co-produced by Fines and Alec Fraser, who adds vocals as well.

I found myself aware that I was listening to a contemporary recording, and yet transported to a (perhaps mythical) earlier time that was somehow easier and less stressful (even when times were hard). Although several of the songs are "down" and bluesy in tone, such as "You Can't Trust the River," the overall effect of the collection is contented, even happy-go-lucky. There's a slightly mischevous sense of humour throughout, especially on the title track and Cajun-flavoured "I Just Had to Ask."

As my 10-year old son commented: "I like this CD. It's, like, happy blues. And you don't usually get blues that's happy." True enough! If you're not living the life of Riley, maybe Riley Gets His Life Back will be just the thing to lift your spirits.

- Rambles
written by Joy McKay
published 27 March 2004