Music Reviews
Sean Costello Tribute

Sean Costello Tribute

Don’t Pass Me By: A Tribute To Sean Costello

Landslide Records

As a music reviewer, I receive several new releases every week – some solicited, most unsolicited. I always regret that I cannot possibly get to them all, and I know many of them deserve to be reviewed. But when I got my mail a few weeks ago and discovered that Landslide Records had blessed me with a copy of Don’t Pass Me By: A Tribute To Sean Costello, I knew that I had something very special in my hands. Sean was an extremely gifted blues songwriter, guitarist and singer. His break came when he played lead guitar on Susan Tedeschi’s 1998 album, Just Won’t Burn, after which he was widely esteemed by his musical peers including seasoned industry blues players. Unfortunately, his life was cut short due to an accidental overdose in 2008, one day before he turned 29. He also suffered from Bipolar II Disorder, a diagnosis that came just one year before his death. His loss left an open wound in the blues world that is still felt today. It took almost ten years, but producers Dave Gross and Jon Justice have put forth a 15-song labor of love in Sean’s honor for a very worthy cause. (More details are at the end of this article.)

The artists involved with this record either worked with Sean or were influenced by him, and they all donated their time. They chose their favorite Sean Costello originals and created stirring interpretations of the songs. There are artists who wanted to be part of this but passed before they could record (Nick Curran, Hubert Sumlin and Levon Helm) and artists who did record but who have passed (Candye Kane and Mike Ledbetter with The Nick Moss Band).

Every track here is just incredible. Albert Castiglia kicks off with a rockin’ Texas blues rouser on “Same Old Game” (co-written with Aaron Trubic of The Electromatics and drummer Ray Hangen of Bruce Katz Band), while Canadian singer/harp player/guitarist Steve Marriner puts his own spin on the Texas blues burner, “How In The Devil.”

The late Candye Kane and Laura Chavez do serious justice to “I’ve Got To Ride” while the divine Debbie Davies slays the blues romper “Don’t Be Reckless With My Heart.”

Victor Wainwright’s soul-piercing “Don’t Pass Me By,” a song that Costello co-wrote with Amy Helm (incidentally Levon Helm was to be included on this record but passed before he could record), is just about the greatest thing I have ever heard and is very true to the original except swap out Costello’s gritty blues vocal for Wainwright’s blue-eyed soul sound.

Hardcore blues fans will love Bob Margolin on “Low Life Blues” with harp from Dennis Gruenling and will appreciate the delta blues flavor from North Mississippi Allstars on “Father.”

Also noteworthy is Seth Walker’s heartfelt, jazz-infused “All I Can Do,” with its throwback sound to the Rat Pack era and The Electromatics R&B take on “She Changed My Mind.”

But it’s the lesser known performers who steal the spotlight on this record. Sonia Leigh nails “No Half Steppin’” with her gravelly vocals while The Morning Life creates a brilliant, slower tempo version of “You’re A Part Of Me” that certainly could be on the radio. In fact, it sounds like something Don Henley could record. Then there’s “Can’t Let Go,” a stunning R&B reinterpretation done by Matt Wauchope (keyboards/vocals), Melvin Zachary (bass) and Terrence Prather (drums), Costello’s former rhythm section members, that easily could qualify as a radio hit. I find myself coming back to it again and again. Followed by another one I just can’t get enough of, Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers) and Amy Helm absolutely slaughter “Feel Like I Ain’t Got A Home” with a heart-wrenching, chill-inducing performance that cuts you to the core, and the record closes in hauntingly prolific fashion.

The beauty of this record is that the styles run the gamut from rockers to slow burners to funk and soul. All of the proceeds support the Sean Costello Memorial Fund For Bipolar Research. I can’t think of a better way to honor Sean while supporting very important research and gaining a fabulous record to boot. Sean Costello left this world way too early, but he left an inimitable musical legacy. This record is a testament to his passion, his genius and his enduring influence. I know that somewhere up there he is basking in the glow of what his musical peers have created with his original work. Get this record. It’s a true winner.

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