Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Gina Sicilia: “Tug Of War” (2017) CD Review

Last summer I was turned on to blues vocalist Gina Sicilia when she released a five-song EP titled Sunset Avenue. If you missed that release, no worries, as all five songs from the EP are also included on her new full-length album, Tug Of War, featuring mostly originally material written by Gina Sicilia. A lot of the songs on this album are about acknowledging and handling pain and adversity, but always with the idea that we’ll get through our troubles. As such, it should be particularly poignant for a lot of folks right now. The country is in shambles, and it’s difficult to remain unaffected by that. In addition, it seems that more people are having personal troubles these days. Maybe that’s just a matter of getting older, I don’t know. What I do know is that most people in my life feel they are at a crossroads of one kind or another, and that something has to change soon. I think people in that situation should find a kindred voice in Gina Sicilia, and in this album especially.

The album opens with “I Don’t Want To Be In Love,” a cool mix of blues and pop, a song about a woman who’s in love, much to her chagrin. “I thought I was happy here on my own/’Til you came along and showed me I was wrong/But I don’t want to be in love.” Arlan Oscar plays piano on this track, and Matt Tecu is on drums. “I Don’t Want To Be In Love” was written by Gina Sicilia and Dave Darling (Darling also co-produced the album with Glenn Barratt). Even though the next song, “Damaging Me,” is about life trying to beat her down, it ends up a more upbeat song, as the repeated line is “Picking up my pieces off the floor.” So even though she is in pieces, the song is about not giving up, no matter how shitty life can be. “I’m on my knees/Tired of this strife/It’s much too much/I’ve had enough.” I love the cool ending of this song. She expresses a similar (and stronger) resolve to not give up in “I’ll Stand Up,” in which she sings, “My feet ache/My legs shake/But I’ll stand up/My hands are weak/No words to speak/But I’ll stand, I’ll stand up.” “I’ll Stand Up” is one of my personal favorites.

“He Called Me Baby” is the first cover song of the album. It was written and recorded by Harlan Howard, though it was then titled “She Called Me Baby.” Gina Sicilia’s rendition is less country, more blues. It features a good groove, over which Gina delivers a powerful vocal performance. This is my favorite of the album’s three covers. I dig Joel Bryan’s work on organ here. The other covers are a fun rendition of “Tell Him,” which was written by Bert Berns and recorded by The Exciters, and a slow, passionate version of The Beatles’ “All My Loving.”

“Tell Him” was included on the Sunset Avenue EP. The five songs of that EP are presented together on this CD, though not in the same order as the EP. The first is “Never Gonna End,” the song which provides the album’s title in the lines “In a tug of war/We closed the door/On trying to make peace/With each other.” This song mixes some gospel elements into the blues/pop sound. That’s followed by another of my favorites, “I Cried.” Sometimes crying is the best thing we can do, get it all out rather than keeping it inside, and this song has a very positive and friendly feel. “Tomorrow I’m going to get up/Hold my head up high/But until then I’m going to hang it low/And cry, cry, cry.”  “They Never Pay Me” was, for me, the most interesting of the songs from the EP. It has an unusual and compelling sound, which works for me every time I listen to it. “What can I say/To prove I am worthy/What will it take to find/The respect I deserve/For what I have given.” “Abandoned” is a groovy blues song. “Love is who/Taught me to kiss you/Gone without a clue/Left me to miss you.”

This CD concludes with “Heaven,” an upbeat song with a gospel bent. This is probably the most fun, enjoyable song on the disc. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “I have done a lot of things/That I can’t undo/And I know and I know/You’re going to see me through/There’s no light to be seen/From the place I stand/Tell me how to cross on over/To your land.”

CD Track List
  1. I Don’t Want To Be In Love
  2. Damaging Me
  3. He Called Me Baby
  4. I’ll Stand Up
  5. Never Gonna End
  6. I Cried
  7. They Never Pay Me
  8. Abandoned
  9. Tell Him
  10. All My Loving
  11. Heaven 
Tug Of War was released on June 2, 2017 on Blue Élan Records.

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