Sean Costello

Sean Costello
We Can Get Together

Delta Groove DGP CD120

By Art Tipaldi
June 2008

In one of life’s cruel ironies, just as blues guitarist Sean Costello was planning to release his newest record, the blues world learned of Costello’s untimely death. Those who love the blues have come to expect the passing of its older generation, but this loss of 28-year-old Costello, a 12-year touring veteran on the blues scene, has left a great void in music. Sadly, he was found dead in his hotel room in April, on the day before he would have turned 29. The cause has not been made public.

Since his debut on the blues scene in 1994, Costello has never left the blues.

In 1994, a 14-year-old Costello placed first in the Beale Street Blues Society’s talent contest in Memphis. I first saw him jumpin’ the blues at Sonny Boy’s Hall at the 1996 King Biscuit Festival. He recorded his first disc, Call The Cops, in 1996 - and six records later, has never looked back.

He has sat in with every blues guitarist, recorded and toured with Boston’s Susan Tedeschi, and, most importantly, was an integral part of the recent recording of older, overlooked blues legends like Jody Williams and Nappy Brown.

It’s hard to listen to his passionate take on the gospel classic “Goin’ Home,” with the Northside Men’s Choir as the foundation; and the personal feel to the lyrics of Costello’s own “All This Time,” knowing the tragic outcome.

The disc opens with “Anytime You Want,” a lean, electric blues featuring Costello’s pinpoint guitar and clear-cut vocals. The slight tempo changes mid-song, which force Costello to alter his vocal delivery, give this cut a spontaneous, live feel. It is clear that throughout the years, Costello worked as hard on his voice as he has on his guitar.

That vocal study shows on his gritty approach on the Texas blues rocker, “Same Old Game,” and the sincere, joyous approach on “Can’t Let Go.” That song is how I would like to remember Sean. Costello has always had the guitar chops, but years on the road had him discovering a toughness to his voice that conveys his unique inner vibe. At the same time, Costello was forging his own guitar identity. He was no longer the kid in the blue suit jumpin’ the blues, or the clean shaven 20-year-old covering his mentors.

In everything Costello was doing, he was separating himself from his influences and discovering the roads to his own sound. That sound is mostly found in the trio format. On “How In The Devil,” Costello energizes the fretwork on Austin’s classic Texas shuffle. Costello’s “All This Time” is a radio-friendly modern soul tune that concentrates the band’s energy into Costello’s soothing vocals. Because kids like Costello grew up and listened to more than just the blues, you’ll hear some guitar shadings of Beatles pop in “Feel Like I Ain’t Got A Home,” and “Told Me A Lie.”

The record ends with a traditional tune, “Little Birds,” a song Costello learned from his days touring with Levon Helm. Delivered with a stark, Tom Waits vocal approach and a dense slide guitar, Costello possessed many sides to his musical spirit. His deep commitment to honor the traditions, and yet search out self discovery in the process, made Sean Costello one of the most promising singers and writers on the scene.

Sadly, as the Bard wrote: “He should have died hereafter.” We are only left to wonder, what if?

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