As the MapleBlues team adjusts to the loss of our esteemed reviewer, JV, it is important that blues artists and their labels make sure that TBS is getting your new release in good time so that it can be assigned to one of the pool of knowledgeable blues influencers who we will call upon for reviews. Thanks this month to Eric Thom, Cindy McLeod, Sandra B. Tooze and TBS Prez Derek Andrews.

Time has been good to Rick Fines – as this tasty release attests. His smooth, whiskey-poured-over gravel vocals have aged beautifully, adding gravitas to his every lyric. This – his second release recorded (mostly) using the power of the sun from his northern hideaway – is a hearty collection of rootsy folk and blues, featuring eleven originals (some cowrites with Matt Andersen, Grainne Ryan, P.J.Thomas) and a Jesse Winchester cover. His national popularity as a much-loved troubadour and perpetually smiling face translates to the music he creates – the warmth he generates surely accentuated here by the sun’s heat. Rick is as much folk as he is blues, yet he refuses to be corralled by limitations and it shows in his writing. His guitar-playing, too, has become as powerful as his voice – favouring National steel here – his fingerstyle work, sure and powerfully-stated. For voice alone, the opening “Below The Surface” is a clock-stopper, as he observes the general mood of the country, whether intended or not, his baritone guitar ringing with truth. For a deep blues take, “Worry Be The Death Of Me” – as lovely a marriage of Roly Platt’s sensational harp to Fines’ ‘solo bluesman’ and dangerously-slippery National Steel slide, replete with responsible social commentary. Or savour an even more shadowy blues detour with Platt and Fines’ own “Dark Days”. However, it’s his original “Laundry on the Line” that sticks out like a broken marriage. Life as a struggle and continuous uphill battle benefits greatly from his gentle vocal touch and still-stinging guitar. Jimmy Bowskill’s mandola drives Winchester’s magical “That’s What Makes You Strong” as guest Melissa Payne and Fines’ vocals combine to celebrate the ultimate upbeat singalong classic. Parties are fueled by no less than Alec Fraser’s Cigar Box bass on the kitchen-busting “Live Forever”, which reveals Fines’ chameleonic nature as the focal point of most festivities, milking his natural drawl – an instrument unto itself. Another stand-out, the slinky, barrelhouse feel of “You Only Want Me When You Need Me” – co-written with Matt Andersen – benefits from Rob Phillips rollicking piano, Gary Craig’s fat, percussive sound and strong backup vocals. The fun, fiddle-and-mandolin-fired Cajun stomp of ”Yellow Moon, Indigo Sky” adds head-turning guitar and the simpatico vocals of co-writer Grainne Ryan, underlining Fines’ inability to be a pony with just one trick. Bowskill’s pedal steel adds intimacy to “One More Loon” while “Scared To Death” is emblematic of Fines’ effectiveness as a one-man-music-machine – singer and slide guitarist, doing what he does best. All this while saving the planet at the same time? Doubly impressive. (Eric Thom)