october 2009

Sean Costello
Landslide Records

Apart from the overwhelming personal tragedy of Sean Costello’s death last year from a drug overdose a day shy of his 29th birthday is the evidence on this smart overview of his career trajectory: at the time his life ended, he sounded like an artist on the verge of much bigger things even than what he had already achieved in his short time in the professional world. He had it in him to rise to a Stevie Ray Vaughan-level of popular success and influence, and the evidence is here in later cuts such as 2004’s southern soul take on Fenton Robinson’s churning “You Don’t Know What Love Is”—especially a vocal performance by Costello that is so mature and deeply felt it seems like it should be emanating from someone about twice his age and far more deeply scarred by chains of love. In sequencing this tribute in mostly chronological order, the folks at Landslide allow even those who followed Costello’s ever-upward career path a fresh perspective on his growth over time, as well as an aural testimony to his inventiveness and the creative curiosity that compelled him to keep challenging himself. Let it be noted too that Costello’s stalwart band—Paul Linden on a ferocious harmonica and piano (his raucous, barrelhouse pounding on 2002’s “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home” added immeasurable energy to this great Costello original), Matt Wauchope on organ, Melvin Zachary on bass, Terence Prather on drums was the most formidable configuration—aided and abetted him with a fiery but sensitive attack and no small dollop of imagination as well. New to the catalogue on this outing are no less than 10 previously unreleased recordings, including, among many highlights, a driving, powerhouse treatment of Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues,” with Susan Tedeschi (an early Costello benefactor, who showcased the young, upstart guitarist to good effect on her 1998 album, Just Won’t Burn, and gave him added exposure on tour) knocking out wailing vocal while Linden moans and howls on harp and Costello interjects some big, distorted stuttering licks behind her. Best of all among the unreleased gems is a mini-set of live recordings that demonstrate how potent the onstage Costello and band could be, whether easing into the slinky, funky groove of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” or the sludge and grind of “Motor Head Baby,” a thinly disguised rewrite of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” that happens to make reference to a Rocket 88, and features Costello working the full length of the guitar neck with a tantalizing mixed bag of single- and multi-string runs and frailing chords adding extra texture to the workout. This album is full of astonishing moments, both vocally and instrumentally, and well packaged to both honor a gifted artist and be a superb introduction to his art for those who may have overlooked it in Costello’s abbreviated lifetime. –David McGee

Buy it at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024