'Riley Wants His Life Back' by the Rick Fines Trio has acquired a permanent parking place in my CD player. It's an authentic retrospective of the upscale blues stylings prevalent during the 30's to early 50's. Being a retro kind of guy myself, anything that turns the clock back to a time when life seemed simpler (and music more accessible) is bound to twig my interest. But 'RWHLB' has far more going for it than the usual memory lane routine.
Rick Fines has long been one of Canada's leading acoustic blues practitioners, but he decided to temporarily put aside his delta muse and focus attention on another inspirational source, namely the polished blues trios that flourished pre-1950 in fancy night spots (three of the most prominent being The Big Three Trio featuring Willie Dixon, Nat King Cole, and Charles Brown).
The trio consists of Rick on guitar and vocals, Rob Phillips on piano, and Richard Simpkins on bass. The tunes perfectly suit the piano/guitar/bass format while offering plenty of open spaces for swinging improvisational runs--all of which are fully taken advantage of. Rick's string work is straight out of the T-Bone Walker School, characterized by sweeps of pure tone, impeccable taste, and soulful brevity. There's frankly not a hint of waste, clutter, or excess to be found anywhere on 'RWHLB'.
The title track charms with its insistent melody and "common man" theme, paving the way for the ensuing eleven originals that more than live up to the high standards set from the outset. "Let Me Please You" gets propulsion from Phillips' pumping piano and Fines' bopping guitar. Fines' half-spoken vocals--full of mischievous wit and droll humor--are reminiscent, at times, of Fats Waller and Curly "Barefoot Miller.
"Perfect Politician" features lyrics that rely on common political jargon (i.e. doublespeak) to poke gentle fun at the male/female courting process. The effect is just so deliciously bizarre and off-the-wall. Peter Andree adds some spicy accordion riffs to the happy-go-lucky, Cajun-drenched "I Just Had To Ask". Canadian roots/blues legend Chris Whiteley is brought on board for some horn duties (a little touch of Louis Armstrong never hurts) as on "Just A Little Kiss", a finely crafted ballad and one of the most nostalgia-inducing sides on the entire CD. It--along with "Can You Forgive Me" and "I Miss Her"--is indebted to the hokum blues and music hall traditions. Any traces of sentimentality and romanticism are most welcome whenever they're supported by such jazzy and exquisite rhythms.
The pacing is wonderful too: one song virtually setting the table for the next. A radical departure, however, from the prevalent good cheer is the poignancy of "You Can't Trust The River", where tranquil waters suggest loss. Rick's voice loses its usual luster here, taking on a brooding, almost somber feel. The instrumentation adds to the tension, with Limpkin's throbbing bass line and Phillips' curiously upbeat piano finale further upping the ante. This track demands repeated listens and will touch your soul at its deepest corner.
"Got To Get My Rest" is one of the most guitar-friendly tracks, and at a little over five minutes, the longest one; but who cares when you're enjoying yourself this much? The trio interacts with total and unerring fluency throughout 'RWHLB', and the ideas flow by so effortlessly that that you'll find yourself disappointed when it's all over.
'RWHLB' is a perfect late night companion, one that won't ever wear out its welcome for those who dig jazzy blues at its very best. So here's to Rick Fines, man of many interesting musical hats: teacher, writer, performer, producer, and historian. But the coolest part of his wardrobe is this finely tailored suit he's just woven, the one with the label reading 'Riley Wants His Life Back'.
from Festival Distribution
Reach Rick by mail:
P.O. Box 2384
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