I know this might come across as some sort of reverse ageism, but I've always wondered how a twentysomething musician could legitimately sing the Blues? That's a pretty pejorative statement I know, but looking at some of these guys with their perfect teeth, expensive leather jackets and fancy guitars, nothing anyone tells me is going to convince me they know what the Blues are.
Oh technically they've got the chops; they can play guitar, blow harmonica, and sing, but a machine can be programmed to do most of the same things. I was very deliberate about saying guys because for every new woman Blues singer that comes along, there seems to be about twenty young turks, who in spite of having no real affinity for the music call, are called Blues musicians.
If I have to hear another CD of some young white guy singing misogynistic songs about hot chicks, being dumped, dumping someone, or "hey babe let's have a good time", I might puke. I know a lot of old time Blues guys sing "done me wrong songs" but there's a big difference. Those old time songs were vehicles that most readily expressed the emotions that the Blues evoked and weren't really about the topic of the song. With the young guys today it unfortunately comes across like they really mean what they are saying in the songs instead of only using them to express a universal emotion.
Maybe its because women still have a harder row to hoe in society than men, or perhaps because they really are more in touch with their feelings, young female Blues singers usually have a much better feel for the music than their male counter parts. Gina Sicilia's first release, Allow Me To Confess, is a great example of a person with an obvious affinity for the music taking the first steps on what could be a long and successful career.
Obviously nobody has a crystal ball that can predict what will happen to somebody in the years to come, but judging by the skill and range of emotion that's displayed on this disc, Ms. Sicilia's potential is obvious. What's even more impressive is not only is she confident enough to write and perform her own material, (eight of the eleven songs on Allow Me To Confess were written by her), but the material is as varied as it is intelligent.
She can just as easily write a slow, torch song type ballad as she can an upbeat rocker or a gospel tinged spiritual. But what's truly impressive is the emotion contained within the song and the intelligence in the lyrics. Her song "One Of Many" is a perfect example of this and also a great example of her maturity as a performer.
The song talks about a young woman from an abusive home that's forced out onto the streets at the age of sixteen and into a lifestyle that will kill her quick. Not satisfied with just pointing out the obvious, Gina describes the girl's emotional and physiological decline in language that's as precise as a surgeon's scalpel. She never trivializes the subject and at the same time keeps it real and never allows it to become sentimental drivel.
That's where her skill and confidence as a performer comes in. A lot of young performers would be tempted to wring as much emotion out of a song as they could with their voices. Instead Ms. Sicilia trusts the power of the words to be able to speak for themselves and doesn't resort to histrionics to "sell" it.
She obviously trusts her voice as much as she trusts her lyrics because there is hardly ever an occasion where she sounds as if she's forcing the issue. Emotions occur naturally and without effort as she allows herself to respond seemingly intuitively to the message behind the lyrics.
When the mood of the song is playful, like "I Ain't Crazy", you can hear a sense of mischief coming out as she runs through the reasons why we should consider her sane despite the song's evidence to the contrary. She also show she has the ability to growl out a good time on the old Etta James number "Pushover" where she not only captures the spirit of the original but puts her own spark into it.
Her voice seems most comfortable in the lower registers, and is far more emotionally sincere when she works down there, but she is also able to utilize the upper end of her range to good effect as a counterpoint. This added dimension allows her the ability to have more than one way to make an emotional impression on the listener and increases the impact and strength of individual titles when she uses it judiciously.
The only occasion she gets away from the approach that has served her so well on the disc is on the last song, the Gospel tinged "When My Ship Comes In". Even here the only reason it strikes a false note at all is because of just how effectively she had used her voice up to that point. It has the potential to be a beautiful song, but for the only time on the album she falls into the young performer's trap of thinking more power and higher pitched vocals equate emotional strength.
Sometimes I worry Blues music is in danger of becoming a parody of itself like Country does on occasion. I'm just waiting for someone to come up with a Blues version of the old joke about only needing a train, a pick up truck, you're dog dying, and going to prison to have the necessary ingredients for writing a Country song.
But then, thankfully along comes a singer of the quality of Gina Sicilia. Her first release, Allow Me To Confess, (along with a few others), available on Swingnation Records, has gone a long way to restoring my confidence in the next generation of Blues' musicians.
Now if only the guys could get it together. Oh well we all know boys take a lot longer to grow up than women so there's still hope for them too.