Before we get started, I need to confess something. When I listened to Gina Sicilia’s beautiful EP, Sunset Avenue, last year, I fell in love with her voice. There were only five songs on that album, but it left an indelible impression on me and I was waiting eagerly for her next release.
Well, it’s finally here. Tug Of War features not only those five songs from the EP (Abandoned, Never Gonna End, I Cried, Tell Him, They Never Pay Me), but six more songs as well. Plus, the songs from the EP are in a different order which adds a whole new dimension to the overall story of the album.
Sicilia has a gorgeous voice. Once you’ve heard it, you don’t forget it. And her vocals on Tug Of War are truly amazing. Each note, each phrase is crystal clear and just rings true. You know how you can tell when a performer is going through the motions? She’s not doing that – she’s giving you her reality in all of its unvarnished glory.
Sicilia also wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. She only uses three covers, and each perfectly suits the overall mood of the disc. She’s also joined by some amazing musicians including Ron Jennings, Dave Darling, and Zach Zunis on guitar; Ken Pendergast and Darling on bass; Scott Key and Matt Tecu on drums; Joel Bryant, Walter Runge, and Arlan Oscar on organ and B3; and Runge and Oscar on piano. Background vocals are provided by Darling and Charlene Holloway.
I love the opening mix of guitar and piano on I Don’t Want To Be In Love, a song that serves as an anthem of things to come. Sicilia has been working through some personal issues the way that many artists do, by channeling that pain into their art. Here she makes a statement of how she feels at this particular moment and captures the sound of some of the classic sounds of the past at the same time. It’s a great start for what promises to be a great album.
She follows up with another revealing song, Damaging Me, that easily connects with the previous song. Sicilia’s voice is strong, not the tone of a woman who is going to take things lying down. She wrote this song on her own and teamed with Dave Darling on the first song, and her lyrics are so dynamic, so close to the bone. She’s not going for flowery poetry, she’s cutting right to the quick. Another good song.
I remember Harlan Howard’s He Called Me Baby as one of the last songs Patsy Cline recorded before her untimely death. It’s been covered by a few other artists, and here Sicilia does a great job with this number. While it was written with a country music audience in mind, it’s a great soulful classic and she manages to pull out all the emotional stops. I love her version as it gives her voice a chance to soar over a sparse arrangement, and her voice is beautiful…
The next several songs are all written by Sicilia, starting with I’ll Stand Up. She has a real country blues feeling on this song, and that’s only to be expected as she’s been living in Nashville, and let’s face it, the two genres are very closely related. There is a great deal of power in this song. Her vocals are amazing and she only uses Darling’s guitar and Oscar’s organ to create the music. Lovely. Simply Lovely.
There’s a lighter touch to the music of Never Gonna End. She uses a songwriter’s deft touch to use the lyrics as counterpoint. The subject matter is pure blues and her vocal approach is forceful as she faces her issues head on. Charlene Holloway does a great job with her backing vocals.
She starts off I Cried with a light guitar and her own strong vocals. The other instruments come in shortly after and again, there is a country vibe but solid blues lyrics. Her songwriting continues to impress me very much and she continues to expose herself in a most vulnerable manner. That’s a brave way to face a situation, and she manages to do it beautifully.
They Never Pay Me starts off low and slow. It’s aching and you can feel Sicilia’s pain in every note. Her voice has turned and she expresses herself with the sharpest edge on the album. I love her orchestrations, this one sounds very European in tone, almost Brechtian, and yet fits perfectly in the world of the blues.
The quiet swamp fueled Abandoned follows. It’s a perfect fit with the previous song, as it also mines that deep emotional vein that runs throughout the album. Great song and an amazing blues tune.
The next couple of songs are covers, starting with Bert Berns’ Tell Him. It’s a great song that has been covered by a number of artists, maybe most notably The Exciters (1963) and Kenny Loggins (1989). Sicilia gives the song a ton of soul and keeps it very close to the 1960’s arrangements. She gives a great R&B performance on the song.
In a daring move, Sicilia takes on The Beatles’ classic, All My Loving, using just her voice and Darling’s guitar. She slows the tune down and turns it into an impressive ballad. It makes you kind of wonder why the Fab Four didn’t record it this way. It’s a gorgeous rendition and one that even the biggest Beatles fans might enjoy. I sure did…
She closes out the album with an original composition, Heaven. It’s got a real gospel kick to the music and her voice soars. It brings a touch of recovery and moving on to the album, and lets us out on a high note.
Gina Sicilia is an amazing performer and after listening to Tug Of War a couple of times, it’s one of my favorite albums of the year. The honesty in her writing and the clarity of her voice make this one a real winner. She doesn’t jump too far out of the blues genre, although she does bring in some very close elements from other music, most notably country, R&B, and a little gospel.
This is, I believe, her seventh album released to date. I have a copy of her last release, the EP, Sunset Avenue, and I enjoyed it very much. However, after hearing this full album with the songs in a different order, I really prefer this version. And I need to get an advance on my allowance so I can go purchase the previous releases. I’m in love with her voice and need to hear more.
I’ll be checking out her website at https://www.ginasicilia.com/, and I suggest you do the same. It has all her information, plus her previous albums and her tour schedule. I understand that she is still adding dates to her tour, so check back often to see if she’s coming anywhere near you!