After my weekend at Kennys Castaways in NYC, I decided I needed to give some props to the ladies out there who are hitting it hard in the Blues world these days. Each is different from the other, all are killahs and there are tons more of them out there. So here’s some CD’s you might wanna get yer little opposable thumbs on and maybe the rest of yer hands too.
Gina Sicilia: Can’t Control Myself
This is the young Philadelphia singer/songwriter’s third release. Engineered and mixed by Dave Gross, who also plays practically every instrument on the record. It starts out strong and hits ya right in the ears with Addicted, a dark and sensual ode to the joys that are contained within any addiction. She (writes) and sings “I take a puff of my camel, pop and drink up all I got, pull a dollar out my pocket, put a quarter in the slot…then I pull on the lever, find out what I’m gonna win, the only place I’m going is the only place I’ve been, cause I’m addicted.” Damn, this is just great songwriting.
Ms. Sicilia offers us what seems to be a very personal look behind her eyes and into her psyche. Her songwriting has matured to the extent that her singing has. Both are very close to the top of their game, if not already there. Within her songs there is a dark, brooding almost ‘film-noir’ feeling, the world that these words inhabit is frail but not weak. The strength comes from the beliefs that are held very close to the heart but they always seem to be just on the edge of teetering off kilter. But reclamation comes from resignation in a closely tied knot of emotional bondage.
Ms. Sicilia puts three covers on this release all wonderful choices that seem to be naturals for her. Willie Dixon’s Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, which had me thinking of Linda Ronstadt and the sound of the seventies with that chunka-chunka guitar intro.
A very interesting choice is the Larry Addison song Member’s Only made famous by Bobby Bland. I don’t know too many artists who would take this on, and even less ladies, but Gina nails it and Dave’s syrupy thick slide work is a beautiful accompaniment to her deep soulful voice.
The third choice is a somewhat folksy crescendo build up A Place In The Sun. Somewhat county, somewhat folksy but right on the spot with her treatment.
This might be her best release, and makes me want to hear what she has in store for us next time around. She is a rising star and has been touring a lot and you should go see her, there is no disappointment in that space.
Cee Cee James: Seriously Raw, Live at Sunbanks
This is a live recording in which we can all get a feel for what Ms. James is all about. It is all good. Throaty, raspy and cigarettes and whiskey soaked blues. Not that Ms. James adheres to this lifestyle but that is what I hear when she sings. The opening cut is a super ‘get off yer duff and start dancing’ version of Crossroads – if this don’t get your hips shaking then Jack you’re dead ! A funky version of I Ain’t Superstitious follows right behind, and offers a nice alternative take on the often heavy-handed versions of this fine song.
This release has (lucky) thirteen tracks on it, and on each we are treated to some fine work by Cee Cee and the band. Contained within them are three originals while the remainder are covers of fairly standard blues tunes – and a few that are not (Nutbush City Limits is an example).
Her original writings are full of inspiration and determination, including ‘Make It To The Other Side’ in which Ms. James sings of the power of belief in whatever form you choose to help us make to that other side. Her on-stage ramblings are worth the price of admission, and she puts out such a fun persona that we can’t help but get behind her message. ‘I Got A Right To Sing The Blues’ recalls her childhood struggles as she openly recalls her life and testifies to the fact that she indeed does have a right to sing these Blues.
Of course the three-hundred pound gorilla sitting on the stage is the fact that Ms. James has similar vocal qualities to that of the late Ms. Janis Joplin. She openly addresses the issue with two songs, my favorite of them is her version of Me and Bobby McGee. Cee Cee is not ashamed or uncomfortable with the comparisons to the late Ms. Joplin, she embraces them and acknowledges them and moves on. Ms. James has often stated that she does not copy Ms. Joplin, but rather that this is her voice and it always has been. She is not a cover band, she is a strong voice for ladies in the Blues and if she is anything like the music she sings and plays then she is a blessing to us all.
Rory Block: Shake ‘Em On Down: A Tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell
(Stony Plain Records) – release date 3/29
It seems as though Ms. Block is always bettering her prior fantastic effort. This is reinforced by the fact that she has won five BMA’s, inspired the likes of Ms. Bonnie Raitt, and earned the praise of media ranging from The New York Times to Guitar Extra. Always keeping her focus and her eye on the prize, Rory is determined and dedicated to paying tribute to the music of the fathers of the Blues in the way it was intended to be presented.
In this effort Ms. Block sheds her light on the works of Mississippi Fred McDowell. She had the pleasure of meeting Mr. McDowell at a time when she was most impressionable and the effect he had upon her is etched in her music on this release. What stands out is that Ms. Block has written several original songs that capture the essence of Mr. McDowell and his music.
Her first personal offering is the opening track, Steady Freddy. In it she seems to be telling a biographical story from Mr. McDowell’s own mouth. Within the narrative she references his famous line “I do not play no rock and roll’, but using it as his mother’s advice to a young Fred. All of Rory’s original songs are faithful to the feel and style of Mr. McDowell’s playing. Another original song is her relating of a rather personal moment between Fred and her when she was fifteen, titled Mississippi Man. It is a fantastic piece of song-writing that completely knocked me over.
What has become a recurring action point for Ms. Block, is her messing with stereotypes, and she certainly did so with her version of Good Morning Little Schoolgirl where she gender adjusted it and acknowledges that it’s a much different time we are living in these days. Her guitar playing throughout the release is crisp, thoughtful and solid.
Ms. Block’s faithful renderings of Fred’s music fits right in with her avowed path of recreating, revitalizing and reinterpreting the Delta Blues. Along these lines Ms. Block has produced two other albums featuring the music of forefathers of the Blues, one on Son House (whom she knew and played with) and one on Robert Johnson (whom she feels is the highest form of achievement and that we should all strive to reach his level), and is working on a ‘Mentor’s Series’ of releases which would incorporate these releases and future ones into it.
A quick side note Ms. Block’s web site is full of great info, including links to her e-book autobiography, and tons of other really super info, do check it out.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
photos courtesy of Artist