Gina Sicilia,
It Wasn't Real
(VizzTone/Swingnation, 2013)

If the intro to the first cut and title song leads you to expect something like a resurrection of 1950s-era Chicago blues, be warned: this is not the direction in which Gina Sicilia and It Wasn't Real are heading. The old Chicago sound is an influence but one among many, and this turns out to be more blues-informed than blues-focused. I think "roots-pop" fairly covers it, which is to say it has the feeling of the melodic urban popular music of a few decades ago, when songs were meant to be hummed and to touch the heart.

Still, if it's apparent where this is coming from, it's unusual because hardly anybody is doing it like this anymore, unless it's the occasional by-the-notes revivalist, which Sicilia isn't. She's being marketed as a blues artist, I imagine, because promoters have to call her something and blues is as close as they're going to be able to place her.

Rather than crank up the electric guitars to teeth-rattling level and her vocals to windows-shattering volume -- the usual strategy these days -- Sicilia (her big voice notwithstanding) practices attractive, conversational singing and understated, pleasure-generating melodies that convey human-sized stories and emotions. In another arrangement, the profoundly glum "Don't Wanna Be No Mother" -- about an unhappy marriage -- could be a country song for the ages. On the other hand, the burning hot "Don't Stop," calling up the girl groups of the mid-1960s, concerns the most basic pleasures and urgent physical desires. "Don't Cry, Baby," "City by the Water" and "Walkin' Along the Avenue" unfold at their own leisurely pace to fashion gratifying, convincingly realized jazz-blues.

Showcasing another level of her impressive talent, nine of the 10 cuts are Sicilia's own creations. The subjects are the usual -- love functional or dysfunctional, sex, good times, life's hopes and disappointments -- but so smartly expressed that they emit a glow that seems to encompass the listener in an intimate embrace. Glenn Barrett's production sparkles, and Sicilia's light touch exhilarates. It Wasn't Real evokes the enduring charms of the finest classic American pop music.

music review by
Jerome Clark

25 May 2013

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