Riding the roller coaster

Riding the roller coaster

Philly songstress Gina Sicilia rocks Coffee Gallery Backstage Sunday

By Bliss Bowen 06/05/2013

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Things happened very fast, very early for big-voiced singer Gina Sicilia. Not long after she first started sitting in at weekly blues jam nights at Philadelphia club Warmdaddy’s when she was 19 — her first experience performing onstage with a band — she independently recorded her first album, 2007’s “Allow Me to Confess,” which earned positive notices for her rich, warmly expressive alto. Almost immediately she signed with a proper label and a major booking agency, started playing clubs and festivals across the country and Canada, and received a Blues Music Award Best New Artist nomination.

“For two or three years, things were moving really fast,” she acknowledges during a phone call from Nebraska, where she was preparing to play the Zoo Bar in Lincoln. “There was a buzz. I was young, a 21-year-old white girl singing blues. Then I had some problems with agents and touring slowed down, so I started booking myself again, and focused on building my fan base through social media and things turned around. ... There are great things that happened and bad things that happened; it’s a total roller coaster ride. But I have learned there is no shortcut for working really hard and staying really persistent.”

Sicilia’s determined work ethic has paid off. Now 27, she just independently released her fourth album, “It Wasn’t Real,” which has a more polished, uptown sound and feel than 2011’s rootsier “Can’t Control Myself.” Her take on the Etta James chestnut “Don’t Cry Baby” is a highlight of the new album, but she readily concedes that she has “never been a straight blues artist.” She is just as inspired by contemporary songwriters like Brandi Carlile as she is by old-school soul and blues.

She is still touring the country with her four-piece band, which this week brings her to Los Angeles, where she hasn’t played since September 2011. Looking further down the road, Sicilia says she intends to continue recording, touring and collaborating with other artists, and dreams of starting a blues and roots music festival in Philadelphia.

“It’s a journey,” she says. “I don’t have a set goal for where I want to be 10 years from now; I have no idea what the music business will be like. I take it day by day and year by year, and go with the flow of the business and try to always do my best and work as hard as possible. Who knows where I’ll be 10 years from now. But I do know that I’ll still be doing this. I’d like to write a book someday. I’m working on a screenplay. But music will always be my focus.” n

Gina Sicilia plays the Coffee Gallery Backstage, 2029 N. Lake Ave., Altadena, 7 p.m. Sunday. For more information, (626) 798-6236 or visit ginasicilia.com.

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