In just a few short years, Philadelphia singer/songwriter Gina Sicilia has gone from being a barely-legal newcomer to the blues world, gliding onto the scene with her acclaimed 2007 debut Allow Me To Confess to being one of the genre's brightest young talents. Her debut album earned Sicilia a Blues Music Award nomination for "Best New Artist Debut;" she followed it up with the equally lively and acclaimed sophomore effort Hey Sugar in 2008.
Now, three albums in with 2011's Can't Control Myself, Sicilia is a mature 25-year-old (an adult, tho' a mere tot compared to the elder statesmen of the blues still making vital music). She has developed into a talented songwriter capable of capturing great emotion in words, thus providing her own unique vision to her considerable vocal abilities. Can't Control Myself is an exciting collection of original and cover tunes that meld together seamlessly, Sicilia's voice a welcome throwback to the rhythm and blues artists of the 1950s and '60s, framed with a contemporary sound.
Gina Sicilia's Can't Control Myself
Can't Control Myself opens strong with Sicilia's "Addicted," a bluesy slow-grind with a fluid rhythm and the singer's sultry vocals. Beneath Sicilia's smoky growl, however, lies a hint of menace, while Dave Gross's muted, buzzing guitar and layered-in keyboards create a thick, emotional ambience. A cover of the great Willie Dixon's seldom-covered "Crazy 'Bout You Baby" is a fine choice, a mid-tempo scorcher that displays the power of Sicilia's voice as she belts out the lyrics in the best Koko Taylor tradition, the some brimming over with plenty of heartbreak and tears.
There are only a couple of covers on Can't Control Myself, and that's a good thing. Sicilia has developed as a strong R&B styled scribe, and nowhere is her rapidly-maturing songwriter skill more on display than with "Before The Night Is Through." With a gentle swaying rhythm reminiscent of the Drifters, Sicilia delivers a vocal and lyrical performance that rates alongside the titans of early-1960s soul. The wordplay is engaging, Sicilia's pleading vocals carrying the same emotional heft as Ben E. King's best efforts.
A Place In The Sun
One of the other few covers on Can't Control Myself, the Stevie Wonder gem "A Place In The Sun" is done nearly a capella, with Sicilia's voice soaring wistfully and wan above Gross's slight string-scrape and sparse instrumentation that belies the merest of Americana twang. It's a very cool performance, revealing another facet of Sicilia's talents even as the sheer emotion of it boxes your ears into submission. The title track rests on a simple walking melody upon which Sicilia lays down a deceptively complex vocal performance, drawing the listener into the tearjerker lyrics that are more bluesy in spirit that the song's loping rhythm would suggest.
Sicilia's "Wish the Clock Would Stop" is a curious mix of roots-and-blues, with Booker T-styled keys in the background, some jazzy horn blasts, and countryish fretwork. Her vocals are straight line torch song, however, Sicilia packing in a lot of heartache into a nuanced delivery that is complimented by Jon-Erik Kellso's lonesome trumpet playing. "Gimme a Simple Song" is a smoldering, soulful bonfire that puts Sicilia's Philadelphia-bred musical influences on full display, her supple vocals and Gross's jazzy shards of guitar playing well alongside gospel-tinged keyboards. "Once in a While" is a roosty, wistful ballad with a great melody, strong heartbreak vocals and Sean Daly's mournful lap steel guitar.
The Reverend's Bottom Line
Gina Sicilia is an immense talent with an incredible future ahead of her. If she were just a singer, she'd still be a star due to her range, command, and ability to wring every ounce of emotion out of a song. That she has developed into one of the best young songwriters in contemporary blues music is of equal significance, not only allowing her an outlet for her own considerable creativity, but also opening doors of opportunity 'cause, let's face it, the songwriting mills of pop and country music aren't really cranking out the classics these days. They could find quite a few gems in Sicilia's songbook.
Sicilia has also found the perfect musical foil in producer, talented guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist Dave Gross, the two creating in Can't Control Myself a perfect showcase for the singer's talents. Gross rightfully keeps the spotlight where it should be, on Sicilia's vocals and words, and fills out the edges of each song with elegant guitarplay and soft-peddled keyboards and piano. The result is a highly-entertaining album of substance, emotion, and enthusiasm that is guaranteed to please. (VizzTone Records, released March 1, 2011)
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