Gina Sicilia – Unchange
VizzTone Label Group VT-GS07
10 songs – 42 minutes
A honey-toned alto powerhouse who’s now based in Nashville, Gina Sicilia displays old-school sensibilities on her latest disc in her budding partnership with producer Colin Linden. It’s a relaxed, unhurried effort that delivers a hint of gospel and bountiful emotion in minimal settings throughout.
Originally from Newtown, Pa., Gina’s been a show-stopper since age six, when she started appearing in local talent shows. A gifted tunesmith, she composed her first tune at age 12 shortly before falling in love with soul and the blues. Her first release, the EP Allow Me to Confess, was recorded with musicians she’d worked with at jams at Warmdaddy’s in Philadelphia and earned her a best new artist nomination in the 2008 Blues Music Awards.
Her follow-up, Hey Sugar, met with equal success, climbing into the Top Ten on the Living Blues Radio Chart and soaring a nomination in the Blues Blast Music Awards, too. She’s raised the bar on each of the seven releases that followed prior to this own, teaming with a handful of the best producers in the business, including Grammy nominee Cody Dickinson, who was at the controls for her 2020 effort, Love Me Madly.
Captured and mixed by Linden at Pinhead Recorders in Music City, this disc finds Gina at the absolute top of her game. A perennial nominee for top honors in his native Canada as a performer, producer and songwriter, Colin handles guitar throughout with backing from bassist Johnny Dymond and drummer Bryan Owings and augmentation from keyboard players Kevin McKendree and Janice Powers on three tracks and backing vocals from sisters Ann and Regina McCrary on two others.
All ten of the tunes here – two originals penned by Sicilia, four by Linden and three covers – flow seamlessly into a cohesive package with timeless appeal. Fair warning, though: The music is uplifting despite conveying somber messages that mirror the times we live in throughout.
A simple six-string run opens the ballad, “Healing Time,” before Gina’s melismatic voice explodes atop a reserved shuffle and describes the pain of life after the permanent departure of a lover and loss of everything worth living for. The only thing left, she says, is the need to pull herself back together again. Colin’s simple fretwork to the title tune, “Unchange,” offers up sweet relief from suffering as Sicilia comes to terms with the reality that she can’t undo past events.
The feeling continues and picks up steam with dynamic cover of gospel giant Shirley Caesar’s “How Far Am I From Canaan” before a tasty take of Reverend Gary Davis’ familiar “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” which is reinterpreted with a basic Chicago blues feel. Linden’s “Let’s Set the World on Fire,” which follows and is one of the strongest tunes in the set, is an uplifting ballad that opens with images of dark clouds overhead, but delivers an optimistic message that the singer and the man she loves will soon reunite.
“Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor,” a standard that traces back to the 1800s, is up next before more unhurried, fingerpicked sweetness as Gina professes love for a suitor in the ballad “Valentine.” It yields for “Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong,” an original blues with hokum sensibilities that advises never to hesitate to let your conscience be your guide in whatever you do.
The closing numbers – both of which were written by Sicilia – are upbeat mood changers from the gloom that preceded them. “One Last Tender Moment,” a saccharine-sweet tune perfect for dancing the two-step, requests a memory to carry with her forever of the love that she and her man share before the optimistic ballad, “There’s a Bright Side Somewhere,” leaves you with optimism and a smile.
Climb aboard the roller-coaster of emotion expressed in Unchange. The journey will probably feel longer than the 42 minutes it takes and you’ll be a little drained when it’s done, but buy a ticket. It’s a satisfying ride from beginning to end.