There's a widespread misperception that the blues are all about heartbreak and misery. The truth is that blues can be as celebratory and joyous as any other form of music. The blues can be raw and visceral, sure, but there's also room for jump and swing.
Rarely, however, would one describe the blues as 'romantic.' Enter Gina Sicilia and her latest, It Wasn't Real. While by no means a pure blues recording, it all seems firmly rooted in that most fertile of soil. Sicila's songs - she wrote all but one here - straddle the line between blues and pop with aplomb, dealing with longing and heartache, but also celebrating life and love with sultry grooves and slinky hooks.
There's heartbreak, to be sure - opener "It Wasn't Real" is a candid and honest acknowledgement of deception and misguided hope. But "Don't Cry Baby" is a heartfelt plea for understanding and reconciliation, virtually a mirror-image take on the former tune, while "Please Don't Stop," mixing a New Orleans-funky beat with an almost doo-wop chorus and hand-claps, is just plain sexy. And it's hard to imagine anyone able to resist the come-hither-seductive "Wake Up Next To You," an absolute gem of a song, warm and sweetly sensual.
Elsewhere there's the moody, jazzy-bluesy "Walkin' Along The Avenue," jaunty romp featuring stellar harmonica from Dennis Gruenling, and the melancholic yet romantically hopeful "City By The Water," the genuinely touching "Write A Little Song With You," another irresistible invitation to old-fashioned romance. "Don't Wanna Be No Mother" is a frank exploration of shattered dreams and the loneliness of love that's withered and died, but "Oh Me, Oh My" is as bright and bouncy as its title would suggest, though its message is thoroughly down-to-earth. "Walkin' Shoes," the collection's closer, mixes hints of blues, gospel, and country for an uplifting ending to an exceptionally strong set.
Sicila's songwriting is uniformly excellent, and the arrangements are equally admirable. Spare and uncluttered, they still provide a richly textured backdrop, with lots of organ and sparkly piano from Jay Bryant and exquisitely tasteful guitar from numerous contributors. With horns on a handful as well, it's clear the Sicilia knows just what sound she wants, and the results are stunning. She's blessed with a robust voice, that's more than capable of rafter-rattling power, yet kissed with a sweet and beguiling warmth.
It Wasn't Real will no doubt be filed in the blues section, but this is no ordinary collection of 12-bar blues. The honesty and the sheer emotional expressiveness of the genre are there, but Sicilia's compositions are much richer and more revealing than mere repetitions of timeworn themes.
With excellent material, fine performances, and lots of warm and engaging personality, this one's absolutely top-notch - highly recommended!