Combine an Australian-Canadian ingredient into a saucy, Gospel-inflected bluesy chanteuse’s vocal and I offer you the compelling, hypnotically enchanting voice of Gina Horswood. “Come Hell or Hell Water,” is the opening track of this jalapeno (read: hot and spicy) vocalist’s brilliant twelve-track album “Porcelain.” Gina possesses a seductive tone that is just a pleasure to listen to over and over again. At times, she touches the rim of country, taps into blues, teases with some Gospel-flavors and much of it has a generous amount of soul and sincerity.
The track --“Come Hell or Hell Water,” -- opens with a guitar pluck like the sound of a saw being pulled back and let go and Gina’s voice whispers -- at first -- and then slowly lets loose with notes that are penetrating. Who does she sound like? Well, no one I can recall wholeheartedly on this effort. She does have a commanding style like Bonnie Raitt, a deep resounding sexy growl like Genya Ravan (70’s powerhouse band Ten Wheel Drive). But, it’s her intense ability to hit fast, high notes and then drop down the ladder of her octaves into an effective deep bluesy Bessie Smith with a vulnerable bottom that is spine chilling. I am absolutely in love with this song, it’s arrangement and how adept her musicians manage to perform with moodiness and power. Tom Juhas’ slide guitar is also excellent and makes this song all the more interesting.
Nice retro open on “Coffee & Gin,” – track two -- with its nice swirl of Hammond organ by keyboardist Robbie Grunwald. It darts about and around Gina’s now cognac rich vocal. She is easily in Adele’s arena, no doubt. Lyrics are creative. This is a cool tune and the drums are miked in a manner that even the beat is inventive. There is something about Gina’s voice that I find more appealing than Adele. She has the ability to swing up and down on her vocals with ease and has the ability to highlight the right lyric at the right time and emphasize the right words.
Jazzy undertones start “Bad Fruit,” and now I am listening to a Gina Horswood who is treading Billie Holiday depths. It could be more country inflected with its twangy retro guitar sound from the 50’s -- the clickity clop of woodblock establishes the song as a Gina Horswood original. Few artists use this sound today. Even a vibraphone splashes throughout the melody and it’s solid. American country artists have nothing on this lady. It’s like eating Italian or Mexican food – the flavors attack the taste buds incessantly and here – it’s flavors for ears.
“Trouble,” opens with a steady snare beat, some pure, loose backup vocals by Dani Strong and Tamica Herod. Gina’s vocals have some echo on them – when required – and it really enlivens the sound. The vocals are impassioned, and the tune seems to unfold like a big fat multi-petal rose when the sun comes out in the morning. Her breathy vocal is emotional and up close. I could just imagine what this would do to a lonely man with headphones on his ears. The song has so much room, atmosphere – this is also the talent of engineers and producer – Andre Wahl for certain. He has captured her voice elegantly.
From “Trouble,” to an awkward but effective “Caged.” it's certain Gina is not really following any one’s musical map, but her own. This doesn’t resemble anyone on radio today, yet it could be stamped with reliable commercial potential. Her voice is clear and the power in the notes is masterful in that she does it with no strain. This is delightful and her quirky arrangement is attractive as well. Guitars ring, sustain and have just a little distortion to strengthen its message. Drummer Sly Juhas follows her vocal like a mosquito around a source of heat.
Continuing with the same approach as “Trouble,” and “Caged,” the song “Faith,” finds Gina with a smoothed out map of music and pours a little honey on her vocal showcase. This is like a Leonard Cohen lyric – intense and captivating. This was written before Leonard’s latest dark album and this song sounds as if it could've been on that album. This is how superlative Gina’s music is. This approach is a masterpiece. I am really surprised this woman isn’t more widely known already in the mainstream. She is a Joni Mitchell-Leonard Cohen wrapped in one body with a slightly Adele-like vocal style – but, Gina seems to hit notes quite higher and more colorfully than Adele. Gina sounds, at times, without diminishing Adele’s talent, to not be showboating as much the way Adele does. Gina seems comfortable in one or two gears rather than turbo charged all the time. “Faith,” is absolutely excellent.
Back in a bluesy setting “Don’t Let Life Take the Good Out of You,” is closer to the style of the late Eva Cassidy. This song just confirms that Gina can do country, alt-country and blues equally efficiently. The opening to “Polka Dot Bows,” is also instrumentally moody, a little dark, and most importantly engaging. This is a really good Gina Horswood vocal – controlled, even-keel with not your average commercial lyrics. Truly an artist who not only pushes the envelope, she pushes back at the walls. Backing vocals are dynamic and what makes it all the more intriguing is that there is no gaudy over polished production and musicianship. The music is intense in how it supports Gina’s vocal and great song. You wait for someone to unleash a fiery solo but it wouldn’t work on this. That reverberating guitar string is a kick in the gut each time it resounds. But, it’s Gina’s vocal that eases the pain. This was a well-thought out piece. It has spirituality, it has blues, it has a little tension built into the grooves of her tonality. This is like Tom Waits territory without any over blown bombastic presentation. I like this…I liked it a lot.
“Grey Bird,” displays crisp drums and an early 60’s Shangri-La’s / Mary Weiss type vocal and arrangement. That girl group always had some darker ingenuous songs on their flipsides. “Dressed in Black,” “You Can Never Go Home Again,” “Sweet Sounds of Summer,” and “The Boy,” and several others – that even impressed the late, great Amy Winehouse. That’s where Gina is with this – to my ears. This is uplifting, but it has a streak of snow white tresses that runs through raven hair. Quite a contrast. The female vocals toward the end is bone chilling good.
“How Many Lives,” takes a nostalgic trip down 50’s doo-wop alleys. Gina, of course, has a nice clear voice, but when she dips down low into a bellow she is at her finest. The legendary Bobbie Gentry did something similar in a song she recorded called "Sweet Country." This sounds like an out-take from a song one of the tough girls in “West Side Story,” should have sung. When Gina slurs her words – or imitates that effect in this song it’s also quite cool in an assertive way. Gina seems to be emulating 50’s Elvis at times when she really plays with the lyric vocally the way he so expertly did back then. And back then, the only female who utilized this vocal-approach was the masterful Timi Yuro (sample her Danish live performance of "You'll Never Walk Alone," on YouTube.)
Echoes of Tom Waits-Chuck E. Weiss and a little Ricki Lee Jones seeps through in the quirky “Why Should I Wait.” Here, Gina one-ups Waits a bit with some great female backup vocals. The fuzzy guitar is skillful; the dark drums have lots of voodoo and the entire tune has moments when it glides over incendiary terrain. The vibraphone again is used to great effect. Live? This song would be even more effective if more percussive sounds were employed with diversification. Great finale by Gina.
Closing out the twelve-song album is the title track to this fine album: “Porcelain.” This is Gina’s most commercially accessible tune vocally and musically. It’s all here with all windows open. Great airy vocal, swishing drums, retro-fuzzy guitar and expertly rendered lyrics. If this woman doesn’t spike a wild and wooly career with her voice and band I may as well give up listening to music completely. This song is certifiable. She has it all – rockers, dark tunes, clever songs, commercial appeal, a powerful voice with appealing tone and she is above all creative. What more does someone need? Oh, I guess she has to dress up like some freakish other worldly dancer with cleavage and long legs. No – I don’t think so.
Gina looks like she knows who she is and she has the pipes and she should have confidence.
On the center panel of her album she is holding a porcelain white broken cup. Somewhere else on the CD art she should be holding white bleached bones in the same configuration in her palms as her final vocal rings out: “…. where is your backbone baby, where is your backbone?” Your backbone is in Gina’s hands. And with this collection – that’s the place to be.
I am looking forward to her next collection of musical stories.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression. All photography is owned by the respective photographers and is their copyrighted image; credited where photographer’s name was known & being used here solely as reference and will be removed on request. YouTube images are standard YouTube license.
John Apice / No Depression / Written in October 2016