This writer has witnessed Gina Sicilia’s musical growth first-hand, recalling a bit shy, nervous then Philadelphia-based Sicilia in her early twenties (before she released any albums), and comparing that impression to the complete, confident, ever-evolving artist she is on Heard the Lie. Sicilia is a hard worker; having now released eighth albums in a little over a decade. She is one of the many outstanding artists that now grace the evolving Blue Elan label for which this is her second release, eighth overall. She’s in the company of Janiva Magness, Rita Coolidge, The Textones, Jesse Dayton, and several others. Sicilia continues to evolve in her songwriting. This effort moves into more upbeat territory from the remarkably personal heartfelt Tug of War. It was clear from even those early days, that Sicilia could belt the blues with the best of them but in addition to the songs, she continues to grow in nuance, phrasing, and attitude.
Produced by Grammy-nominated Dave Darling (producer of Janiva Magness’ 2016 Love Wins Again), who also partially produced Sicilia’s previous Tug of War, it’s clear more than ever before that the rootsy Americana flourishes of Nashville are emerging in her music. Sicilia’s been an East Nashville resident now for three years. “Great things can come from being authentic and forming real friendships and connections with other musicians anywhere but particularly in Nashville.” She further comments, “I’ve never really recorded albums that are straight blues because I’ve always felt the natural urge to write and record my many musical influences. But I have always tried to write blues-influenced songs with pop sensibilities and pop hooks – catchy songs that people can sing along to. That’s something I tried to do even more when writing this album,” she says.
Powered by a first-rate group of L.A. session players that includes Herman Matthew n Drums, Davey Faragher on bass, and Josh Smith on lead guitar, Sicilia moves into roots. You hear it immediately on the opening title track, a tune that could just as easily come from an Americana luminary like Lucinda or early Mary Chapin Carpenter. Similarly, “Bad Things” is filled with twangy guitar licks from Smith and the mid-tempo “Sugar” gets close to country balladeering. The soul style from Tug of War is present in “How Many Times,” a tune that has a vintage Muscle Shoals sound. She adds the R&B feel to her cover of Bad Company’s “Ready to Love” and brings touches of gospel to the up-tempo, “Light Me Up,” intended to be a dance song, a new twist for her. The handclapped beats of “Darling” comes from her love of girl groups.
It somehow seems that this year, more than any, finds many artists concerned less with genre; and that’s true for so-called blues, jazz, and even pop singers. But, at heart Sicilia will always stay close to the blues too. This is slightly evident on the upbeat duet with her label mate, Janiva Magness, on “Brighter Days,” which Magness also co-penned. It becomes more bluesy with her wailing on “Angels Watching” and reaches an apex in the shuffling “Man in the Sky” and the slow-burning “Growing Dim,” two of her most powerful vocals on the record.
Sicilia received a BMA nomination for Best New Artist in 2008 and received massive airplay on blues radio, especially with Tug of War. It just seems that her pairing with producer Darling and Magness, has her attempting some crossover here. If she’s as successful as Magness, this will prove to be a smart move.