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Gina Sicilia - Hey Sugar

Swingnation Records

Run Time: 44:00

Gina Sicilia’s young, talented voice has the ability to melt your heart with the turn of a phrase. She demonstrated that on her debut album Allow Me To Confess, which garnered her a BMA nomination this passed February. Sicilia demonstrated, too, that she had the ability to cross genres easily without alienating listeners and fans of any of the genres. Now, with one more year under her belt and nine new songs to record, Sicilia returns with virtually the same band on her sophomore effort Hey Sugar. Produced by bandleader, songwriting partner, and BMA-nominated guitarist Dave Gross; Sicilia tackles a different direction on this CD.

Sicilia’s signature is weaving back and forth between genres with both her songwriting skills and powerful alto voice that can croon you to a swoon or be as sassy as it wants to be. This second album is not any different. Taking on more of a countrypolitan sound that characterized 50’s and 60’s Nashville in the veins of Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Conway Twitty, and the early songwriting of Willie Nelson; Sicilia seems right at home in this great American landscape of songwriters and singers. On tunes like “What the Moon Could Never Do,” “Nobody’s Darling But Mine,” the Dolly Parton cover “Coat of Many Colors,” and the late night lovers croon of “Plain Apple Pie” are all beautiful homage to this past sound by staying fresh and new with Sicilia’s interpretation and strongly mature songwriting. Don’t leave blues fans! There’s plenty here for all of us, trust me!

For the blues and classic R&B sounds, Sicilia is not short on talent and ear-catching ability either. With the infectious beat of a Muscle Shoals-sounding stomper on the story “Jack & Jill,” Sicilia weaves the biographical tale of two lovers while Dave Gross’ guitar has a sudden ring of Steve Cropper’s licks and David Maxwell conjures Booker T’s organ. Sicilia shows she’s not too far removed from last year’s effort with the swing of “Goin’ Home Baby” another Big Maybelle tune. Sicilia keeps classic 50s & early 60’s R&B alive with the title track which is completed by the male chorus harmonizing with “ooos” and the story of “Cherry Tree” on the following track. My three favorites oddly enough are the nasty and sassy blues of “Kissing In the Dark,” “Lowest of the Low,” and the jazzy “I Pray Most Everyday.” “Kissing” is a revival of an old Memphis Minnie song written by her long time partner Little Son Joe (a.k.a. Ernest Lawlers) which Sicilia interprets so warmly that it’s like the smoke from a day’s last cigarette wrapping around you in a dark room. The beautiful Italian guitar opening by Gross, no doubt homage to Sicilia’s heritage, on “I Pray Most Everyday” shows a uniquely gifted knack for jazz reminding me of Astrud Gilberto or Billie Holiday. I know those are quite huge comparisons and may seem to some like hyperbole but after hearing Sicilia live and on CD these past two years, expectations continue to rise for this young star.

Sicilia’s band is always stellar. Scot Hornick (upright bass), David Maxwell (keys), and Chris Rivelli (drums) along with guest appearances by Dennis Gruenling (harmonica) and Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet) and Gerry Niewood (saxes & clarinet) easily switch gears between genres as flawlessly as Gross and Sicilia do. This album is no sophomore slouch and stands up easily against last year’s Confess because of its maturity in songwriting and continued skill and craft in vocal phrasing and overall quality. I would dare you to go one step further and go out to see Gina Sicilia and her band as she goes out on tour to support the album all across the country through the rest of 2008.

Reviewed by Ben Cox

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