When you first hear 28-year-old Sean Costello with his soulful, emotive voice and his tasty guitar licks, it's tempting to compare him to Jonny Lang. Born less than two years apart and both making their proper debut albums at the age of sixteen, the comparisons between the two get even more unavoidable. When you listen closer, though, there's much more to Costello than Lang ever was.
For one, Costello's influences run much more varied and deeper. I often like to describe a musicians sound by listing the musicians who came before him that he sounds like. In Costello's case, the list is mind-boggling in length and diversity. His guitar, to me, conjures up Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, and Freddy King, among others. His gruff, passionate singing really sounds like no other but Johnny Taylor is his favorite singer and he probably draws a lot from him, along with Otis Redding, and Eddie Hinton. His music touches on Redding, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, and Fats Domino. I'm sure I just scratched the surfaced, too.
Costello has stated that he "wanted that feeling I get when I listen to my favorite records. I wanted to take a different spin on every song. I was trying to make it all sound fresh." His fresh approach to the old school blues, rock and roll, gospel, and soul makes him a worthy heir to Jimmie Lee Vaughan.
Costello didn't soak up influences just by sitting around listening to records, though. At eighteen he was the lead guitarist on Susan Tedeschi's seminal Just Won't Burn and has played alongside blues luminaries B.B. King, Guy, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, and Bo Diddley. Add to that the fact that he's been making his own records for twelve years, now, and you've got a guy who's been around the block quite a few times already.
After refining his sound over four albums, We Can Get Together finds Costello really getting his groove going in every aspect. The guitar playing is concise, the vocals are fervent without being overly so, and the songwriting is mature.
Costello can adjust his approach for whatever the song calls for. He gets gritty singing on "Anytime You Want," with a pretty Bloomfield-like guitar riff and an organ providing just a dash of soul.
"Same Old Game" is a funky rocker early-seventies style replete with a Charlie Watts rhythm. "Can't Let Go" is the melodic highlight of the CD, sounding like Hinton at his best. On it, Costello provides not one, but two short but sizzling solos.
"Hard Luck Woman" is blues-rock take on a prison work song with some stinging Billy Gibbons riffing. "How In The Devil" applies Howlin' Wolf vocal phrasing to no-nonsense hard-hitting electric blues.
"Told Me A Lie" shows off the fruits of working with Levon Helm in the gospel blues scene, utilizing a tuba for a blues dirge in true The Band fashion and employing a country gospel backing chorus on the refrain. Speaking of Helm, like the ol' singing drummer did for his Dirt Farmer CD last year, Costello likewise covers the traditional light waltz "Little Birds." In this rendition, Sean's shimmering guitar and weeping slide colors the song in a way that makes the song sound altogether different.
Costello's affinity for gospel continues on the album's only other traditional cover, a deeply soulful take on "Going Home."
There have been a lot of newcomers to the blues scene over the last ten or fifteen years, but few have given more reason to be excited about the future of the blues than Sean Costello. He's a completely developed package revitalizing the genre using more than a dozen years of experience most blues players don't get in a lifetime. And he's not even thirty yet. If he is this good on We Can Get Together it's scary to think how good he'll be by the time he finally hits that milestone birthday.
Photo by John Morris