Gina Sicilia Teams With Cody & Luther Dickinson On Philly-Meets-Memphis Soul Opus ‘Love Me Madly’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

As detailed in our coverage of Gina Sicilia’s 2018 Heard the Lie this writer has witnessed her musical growth first-hand, recalling the then Philadelphia-based Sicilia in her early twenties (before she released any albums). Now with her ninth album, Love Me Madly, her third for the evolving Blue Elan label (Rita Coolidge, Chelsea Williams, Janiva Magness, to name a few), Sicilia, known up until recently primarily as a blues singer who holds a couple of prestigious nominations, continues to evolve in her songwriting and cross into other genres. While her previous effort stepped into Americana, this one is pure soul music. It was clear from those early days, that Sicilia had immense vocal chops, but she continues to grow in nuance, phrasing, and attitude, earning the respect of high profile producers such as Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi All-Stars) who helmed this project. Brother Luther Dickinson plays guitar too.

Sicilia began writing for this project right after releasing Heard the Lie. Now based in Nashville for the past several years, Sicilia writes constantly and began making several trips to Cody’s home studio in MS, The Checkerboard Lounge. As has been her wont over the past several albums, she wanted this to be different from the others – “a little grittier and not too sweet, I wanted to record a soul album. That’s what this album is.”  Cody played about all the instruments on the album (rhythm guitar, bass, keys, drums synth, electric washboard) while Luther played on three songs. The Royal soul veteran Reverend Charles Hodges played organ. Soul fans will recognize the names of the Bo-Keys – Marc Franklin (trumpet), Art Edmaiston (tenor sax) and Kirk Smothers (baritone sax) along with Cody’s longtime collaborator Sharise Norman on background vocals. Not only that, the album was tracked at Boo Mitchell’s iconic Royal Studios and engineered by a trio of skilled engineers – Mitchell, Dave Coleman, and Cody.

Sicilia feels that this is the best work she’s ever done and who’s to argue. She delivers a wide array of soul. She delivers aching emotion with her spare vocals, supported only by background vocals and piano, as she does on the closing “Answer the Phone.” she says. Yet, songs such as the horn-infused “Hey Love,” are throwbacks to the heyday of Stax. “Misery with You” features Luther Dickinson’s slide guitar and the soaring power Sicilia’s vocals blend with the chorus of background singers. Luther can be heard on the smoldering “For A Little While” and the poppy “How My Dreams They Go” as well.

On “Gotta Be A Way” Sicilia sounds like a career-long soul singer, deftly navigating her vocal among the punchy horns and Hodges’ B3. The title track, “Love Me Madly,” conjures a ‘90s late night R&B vibe while “Give It Up” features perhaps Sicilia’s best vocal – a mix of power and sultry intonations against a swirling atmospheric backdrop. “This is the only song I recorded as I was writing and singing it. It’s on the album just the way it was done,” Sicilia remarks. “Lose My Head” and “How My Dreams They Go” sound purposely dated, like they emerged from early ‘80s pop radio., The potent soul ballad “Fall in Love,” though, is another Stax-like keeper. 

As Cody Dickinson says, “Our visions matched wonderfully. Philly soul meets Memphis soul with some country blues for good measure. While writing, the pop music was unexpected and totally organic. We went where the music led us…I would love to work with Gina again. I feel like we have so much more to do; we are just getting started.” Gina Sicilia has come a long way over nine albums, Her songwriting continues to improve, and her adventurous spirit works, continually giving her listeners new surprises that she delivers with aplomb.

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