Three decades after his first shot at Juno Award fame, Peterborough-based roots musician Rick Fines is returning to the big show.
Fines’ latest album Solar Powered Too was announced Tuesday (March 9) as one of five nominees in the Blues Album of the Year category, stacked up against Hell Bent With Grace (Angel Forrest), Church House Blues (Crystal Shawanda), Spirits In The Water (Dione Taylor), and The Reckless One (Samantha Martin and Delta Sugar).
The winner will be announced at the 2021 Juno Awards presentation on Sunday, May 16th in Toronto, to be broadcast on CBC as well as streamed worldwide on CBC Gem.
“It’s really, really great,” says Fines of the nomination. “It has been such a tough year.”
“I know it’s the best album I’ve ever made, so to get this nod is gratifying,” he adds. “I’m so grateful for everybody that has brought me to this point.”
Not lost on Fines is the fact that the good news of his nomination comes at a time when the live music performance community, both nationally and locally, has lost countless gig opportunities.
“As musicians, we really are a community within a community and we celebrate each other. I hope everyone is feeling extra good and feeling the love today.”
VIDEO: “Below The Surface” – Written and performed by Rick Fines
Fines acknowledges that no one goes into the recording studio with the sole objective of making an award-winning album. Rather, as he marks 40 years in the music business, the goal is continue to evolve as a musician and a songwriter.
“My goal at this point of my life is to make the best music I can — write the best songs, play as well as I can, and make the best recording,” he says, adding “I don’t ever think about it awards until it’s time to actually apply for them.”
“But I knew we were hitting on some gold when I stumbled on working with my old friend PJ Thomas. She wrote a poem — Fundamental Nature — that I later said ‘PJ, that’s a song.’ Then I sent her music that she wrote words for and that turned into a song as well (Live Forever).”
“Then we sat down together and wrote another one (Scared To Dance). That kind of collaboration doesn’t happen all of the time. That was very cool.”
Songs co-written with Grainne Ryan and Matt Anderson also found their way onto the album.
“The co-writing thing made me feel really good about this album,” says Fines.
Not unlike Fines’ 2006 album Solar Powered, the bulk of the tracks on Solar Powered Too were recorded at Fines’ cabin in North Kawartha Township in late summer 2019.
“Instead of paying for studio time, I bought a couple of solar panels and four golf cart batteries and set up my little cabin to record,” he explains.
“For Solar Powered Too, I wanted to return to that. I knew I wanted an album that was guitar-based, so that was the plan. This time I took (producer) Alec Fraser with me and had him there right through the whole process.”
VIDEO: “Never Let Go” – Written and performed by Rick Fines
“We recorded it in the gazebo,” Fines adds. “We listened to what we had and Alec said ‘I see five of these songs needing to be re-recorded.’ He had a studio and a drummer in mind, and also a strange cigar-box bass that he had. He said ‘I want to go with that. Really rootsy.'”
And so it was off to the Toronto recording studio of Grammy Award-winning producer Peter J. Moore, who served as engineer for the album.
The final product is chock full of collaborations, featuring Gary Craig, Roly Platt, Melissa Payne, Jimmy Bowskill, Rob Phillips, Suzie Vinnick, Stacie Tabb, Sherie Marshall, and Samantha Martin.
“We kind of stacked the deck,” Fines laughs.
“It was such an organic process and then redoing five of the songs in the studio. And then bringing, for instance, Rob Phillips into my dining room and micing up my old upright piano and having him play that. Jimmy Bowskill coming into my home and playing mandolin, mandola, and fiddle. And of course Roly Platt and his harmonica playing. Brilliant.”
Solar Powered Too is Fines’ sixth solo album and the first since 2015’s Driving Home, but his musical journey began in earnest with 1980s’ formation of the blues trio Jackson Delta, with Fines playing alongside guitarist Gary Peeples and drummer Al Black — both still active members of the Peterborough music community, COVID aside.
Jackson Delta released its debut album Delta Sunrise in 1989, but it was the band’s subsequent recorded work that brought it fame. Their 1990 album Acoustic Blues was nominated for a 1991 Juno Award for Best Roots and Traditional Album. Two years later, I Was Just Thinking That was nominated for a Juno in the same category.
“T think it’s the nature of someone who’s doing a creative venture to think that they are always doing their best work,” says Fines. “What would lead you to continue on if you thought your best work was 20 years ago?”
“For self preservation, even psychologically, you must think what you’re doing now is your best work. As far as achieving the vision of what we were trying to do, I feel very, very good about this. I feel it’s my best work to date.”
The album’s release and its subsequent Juno nomination is a perfect tonic following a year of COVID restrictions that left Fines, like all live performance musicians, with little work and reduced income.
“I had a great summer (planned for 2020) spanning two trips to the west coast, two trips to the east coast, and a tour of the Northwest Territories and Yukon — all that got cancelled,” says Fines, noting he’s anxious to get on the road to perform songs from his new album but doesn’t expect that to happen this summer.
“I’m starting to write again. Who knows? When summer 2022 comes, maybe it’ll be a double album release tour.”
Solar Powered Too can be purchased at www.rickfines.ca as well as at Bluestreak Records at 444 George Street North in downtown Peterborough.