“Young Voice of the Blues!”
SEAN COSTELLO – BACK TO BASICS, BACK ON THE ROAD,
BACK IN BUSINESS. A BRAND NEW CD SHOWS WHY SOME
CALL HIM A BLUESMAN FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
At this moment in his musical life, Sean Costello (www.seancostello.com) is all about getting back to basics, keeping it simple, traveling along American roots (for the music) and American routes (for the gig).
All this is to be found in singer, guitarist, songwriter Costello’s latest CD, “We Can Get Together” (Delta Groove), his fifth in a decade-long recording career (the distinctive Costello lead guitar has been included on another dozen or so).
The new CD focuses on Costello’s songwriting and his road tested current guitar-bass-drums trio. The essentials.
Costello has had his share of CDs featuring horn sections and special star guests. This time Aaron Trubic (bass), Paul Campanella Jr. (drums) and Costello (vocal, guitar) are front and center, just as they are on the road on stage in clubs and concerts.
“It’s back to basics, a move to show what we are, who we are and what we do,” notes Costello.
The CD is also a shift away from, but still inclusive of, the blues power that brought Costello early (teenage) attention and fueled his career. “Now,” says Costello, “I’m working on expanding my vocal direction and writing songs.”
This direction includes more than a nod towards another Costello musical passion - the kind of soul music that came out of the Stax Record company a quarter century ago.
Although perhaps best known for his unsullied guitar chops, Costello’s voice has its own distinction, existing somewhere between Tom Waits’ gravel and Howlin’ Wolf’s ferocity. Costello went to the Performing Arts High School in Atlanta but never studied voice, just concentrated on first and lasting love, the guitar.
He may think, today, that this was no bad thing. “A lot of great singers, the ones that I admire, are not technically good singers but they get the emotion, the soul, across in what they do. Which is better,” notes Costello. “That’s what I try to do…”
And, apparently, successfully. He’s been called a Bluesman for the 21st Century, one that incorporates the eclectic mix of music that has surrounded him since the days in Philadelphia when street corner doo wop entranced his young ears. He has had the chance, during his recording and playing vocation, to play with traditionalists (B.B. King), gospel (Five Blind Boys of Alabama), the new wave (Susan Tedeschi), Dylan expatriates (Levon Helm) and any number of the bluegrass, folk or rock community who crossed his path, all without disregarding his bedrock blues elements but using them as energy to extend his musical thinking.
One aspect of life Costello shares (by choice) with those early blues traditionalist is the wandering..The road life.
Again Costello keeps it simple and basic. The Costello trio do their traveling from gig to gig by van, comfortable, roadworthy, and by choice. Life on the road for the trio—no roadies, no driver— would appear to be hard traveling. Costello admits to racking up 10,000 miles in one five week period. And moving cross country from Key West to Vancouver, driving and playing, in another.
But it is their preferred method of locomotion—only Costello’s European tours alter their arrangements. “We travel, playing two nights at a time, maybe three, then load up and hit the road,” admits Costello. “With that kind of proximity you get to know your music… and your musicians. The music on this album would not have turned out so well, had it not been road tested and refined on the road before audiences of real live people.”
Life inside the Costello van has an established routine. Music is probably the main topic—their own and other groups. Audio books are listened to and Costello is currently learning French through headphones in preparation for the next transatlantic excursion.
“We also do a lot of complaining—food, hotels, sound systems, management—joking!! We’ve developed complaining into an art form!”
Sean Costello was born in Philadelphia and raised, from age 9, in Atlanta (a city with a strong sense, and long history, of the blues). About to graduate high school with a local rep. as a guitar hero, he was offered a record gig. With Susan Tedeschi. For $600 dollars.
It was one of those died-and-gone-to-heaven moments, especially as the album became a hit, Costello joined Tedeschi and his own career was off, running in high gear. He remembers the time between age 19 and 23 as fat years, full of work, awards (from the Memphis Blues Society, W.C. Handy award nomination), in and out of the recording studio, and earning the respect of his peers, such as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton. A time when Costello could indulge in Guitarist Fantasy No 1 (no, not that!). Amassing a collection of vintage and exceptional guitars. He owns a 1953 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop, one of around two dozen in existence, he believes. Purchased for $7000, now worth $40,000, stashed away and certainly not part of the van’s equipment..
Then came a died-and-went-to-hell moment. Signed to a biggish label with a biggish advance, the recording, an expensive, ambitious project, was completed and about to be released. Then an internal crisis hit the label, the powers that be became the powers that went and Costello’s work became more or less history, dying without promotion or enthusiasm.
“Some days I’m not pleased with the industry,” he understated wryly some time later.
But Sean Costello regrouped, went back to Atlanta, starting writing and playing and getting some priorities in shape. In fact, to quote his CD, “We can get together.” “All I ever wanted to do was play the guitar well and I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a good living doing it,” was his philosophy.
Make that his basic philosophy.
And Sean Costello is back to basics….