Various Artists – Don’t Pass Me By – A Tribute to Sean Costello | Album Review

Various Artists – Don’t Pass Me By – A Tribute to Sean Costello

Land Slide Records

www.seancostellofund.org

15 tracks; 60:33 minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues

Sean Costello (April 16, 1979 – April 15, 2008) was a one-in-a-million prodigy who began playing guitar at the age of 9, won the Memphis Blues Society’s New Talent Award when he was 14, formed his first band at 15, and released his first album in 1996 at age 16. Across his five critically acclaimed CDs,
released while he was alive, he was equally skilled on guitar, vocals, and as a songwriter.

Sean’s first national exposure grabbed Blues fans attention in 1998 when the name “Sean Costello” appeared in the liner notes of Susan Tedeschi’s gold-selling album, Just Won’t Burn. A 1998 appearance at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago found Tedeschi on tour backed by Costello and his band, The Jivebombers. That show revealed that it was Costello, not Tedeschi, playing all the hottest guitar licks on her heart pounding CD.

On April 21, 2001, Sean and his band performed in the back room shipping/receiving area of Kaper’s True Value hardware store in Watseka IL. They performed two sets with the music totaling 2 hours and 27. In that time, Sean and crew played 30 songs! The eclectic nature of the set lists showcased his maturing career interests by 2001 with three released CDs. The performance reflected his serious approach to music, his incredible memory for songs, and an unquenchable thirst for post-WWII Blues, R&B, and Soul. The 30 numbers were a mix of originals and numbers by no less than 23 different artists, from Guitar Slim to Johnny “Guitar” Watson to Robert Ward to Clarence Carter.

Now comes a welcome addition to 2019, Don’t Pass Me By, a tribute to the original songs of Sean Costello. Each performance is lovingly donated by 15 exceptional Blues artists for the benefit of The Sean Costello Memorial Fund, which was established after his passing, to research the bi-polar disease which ultimately contributed to Sean’s tragic and untimely death. [Note: The family of Sean Costello graciously allows Blues Blast magazine to honor Sean each year by naming their award for Best New Artist of the Year as the “Sean Costello Rising Star Award.”]

Produced by Jon Justice and Dave Gross over a decade of work, the album illuminates Costello’s songwriting talents mainly in his four final years, 2004 – 2008. Featuring all previously unreleased recordings, Don’t Pass Me By showcases Costello’s tunes in a remarkable array of 15 distinctive performances by diverse artists who were influenced, either directly or indirectly, by Costello’s well known abilities as a passionate and compelling Blues singer and masterful, gifted guitarist. Each artist was invited to make their own mark, free to depart from the original versions creating deeply personal and unique renditions. Most stayed close to the originals.

During the ten years the album was produced, two of the contributing artists have passed away: Candye Kane and Michael Ledbetter. Artists listed in the credits as contributing to the recordings were: Ray Hangen, Mike Bram, Dennis Gruenling, Matt Raymond, Dave Gross, Jeff Bakos, Damien Lewis, and Phillip Wolfe. Numerous others are not found in the credits.

1. Albert Castiglia, “Same Old Game,” from Sean’s 5th CD, We Can Get Together, 2008
This fiery song is the perfect choice to kick off the CD with Miami’s Albert doing right by Sean’s original on both vocals and guitar. Castiglia fires off his own distinctive sound on a mid-song guitar solo while maintaining the original vibe about cynicism induced wisdom.

2. Steve Marriner, “How in the Devil,” also from Sean’s 5th CD – 2008
Canadian multi-instrumentalist and founding member of MonkeyJunk, Marriner keeps the original trio’s plodding mid-tempo on this number, but he adds some of his studied and masterful harmonica successfully to the mix. His vocals of disgust with a wandering lover contain the same intensity as Sean’s.

3. Watermelon Slim / Dennis Gruenling, “Who’s Been Cheatin’ Who” – from CD #2, Cuttin’ In, 2000.
This fast paced number keeps the CD’s groove cooking with veteran recording artist Watermelon Slim’s
vocals giving comeuppance to a wayward mate. Gruenling’s harmonica intro of a locomotive-on-fire equates that of Paul Linden in the original. Both songs only take a too-brief 2:46 minutes to blow the tops off heads.

4. Victor Wainwright, “Don’t Pass Me By,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004
The pace slows on this pleading number which, by 2004, had showcased Sean’s maturing and, by then, raggedly powerful vocals. Victor intensely emulates Sean’s tearful vocal appeal to a possibly-departing- sweetheart, and Wainwright takes the title track’s fervor to an even higher level.

5. Candye Kane / Laura Chavez, “I’ve Got to Ride,” also from CD #4
The album’s pace again quickens when the late Candye Kane with Laura Chavez on guitar knock out this announcement to an “unjustified” darling that the protagonist is leaving and “got to ride.” Kane’s vocals are so pure that it brings a tear to the eye just thinking of the music world’s 2016 loss.

6. Bob Margolin / Dennis Gruenling, “Low Life Blues,” from CD #3, Moanin’ for Molasses, 2001
Muddy Waters’ band alum Margolin slows the original tempo slightly, and Gruenling plays plaintive harmonica replacing Paul Linden’s original piano. Margolin’s seasoned vocals work wonderfully telling the sad tale of a fallen hero with redemption on his mind. The icing on the cake is Margolin’s slide guitar additions.

7. Seth Walker, “All I Can Do,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004
This American electric-Blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter’s choice slows the album’s tempo again with a heartfelt rending of Sean’s sad but beautiful lament of unrequited love. An acoustic guitar treatment fits perfectly here with ballad like vocals. Added organ sounds recapitulate Glenn Patscha’s originals.
8. Sonia Leigh, “No Half Steppin’,” also from CD #4
This unshackled-by-genres, Roots music, 30 year old Georgia singer-songwriter nails Sean’s proud pronouncement of plans for his future upward path. The gravel in Leigh’s voice and her guitar lines go well with the message of a long traveling and suffering protagonist who is determined to be upwardly mobile.

9. The Nick Moss Band featuring Michael Ledbetter, “Hard Luck Woman,” from Sean’s 5th CD, We Can Get Together, 2008
The late Michael Ledbetter was lead vocalist for Nick Moss on this recording. Michael at least equals if not surpasses Sean’s vocals on this sorry-but-I-got-to-cut-my-losses-and-go song. in Nick’s own seasoned style, Moss deftly conveys the emotion in Sean’s original guitar lines.

10. North Mississippi Allstars, “Father,” from CD #4, Sean Costello, 2004
NMA maintains the deep haunting tones of Sean’s original song about an ages old theme of tension between a father and son. Luther Dickinson’s slide work takes the song into new sonic territory.

11. The Electromatics, “She Changed My Mind,” also from CD #4
This Atlanta GA band includes Aaron Trubic who played bass for Sean’s band in 2008. Here they maintain a bouncy, upbeat feel of a rare-for-this-set Sean song where good love is found instead of lost.

12. Debbie Davies, “Don’t Be Reckless with My Heart,” from CD #3, Moanin’ for Molasses, 2001
This famous American Blues guitarist keeps the original’s tempo and adds her considerable chops on a song where the protagonist is “begging” a promising new lover to be true and gentle “with my heart.”

13. The Morning Life, “You’re a Part of Me,” also from CD #3
This song was produced by Jack Miele who also emulates Sean’s melodic lead guitar in the New Orleans based band’s contribution. The tempo is slowed nicely from the original to great effect. Bobby Hoerner’s vocals deeply enthuse Sean’s lyrics about trying to prevent a lover’s breakup.

14. Wauchope/Zachary/Prather [members in Sean’s 2001 band], “Can’t Let Go,” from CD #5, We Can Get Together, 2008
Matt Wauchope takes lead keys and gracious vocals on this mellower version of the song. Melvin Zachary adds bass and Terrence Prather drums. The theme here could be part 2 of the previous song. Sean’s unmatchable guitar was so varied and outstanding in the original that it seems a solemn tribute here to record it without guitar.

15. Oliver Wood / Amy Helm, “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home,” also from CD #5
A fitting choice to end this tribute, the highlight here is Oliver’s poignant lead vocals with added harmony vocals by Amy. To great impact, it’s slower than Sean’s painful original. At 3 minutes in, Oliver’s guitar rips one’s heart out showcasing the emotion of Sean’s number. When remembering Sean died in a hotel room on the eve of his 29th birthday, this version is a real tear jerker.

It has been 11 years since Sean Costello’s passing. This loving tribute album helps to keep Sean’s flame burning, but more importantly, it reminds and reinforces what a great, talented songwriter he was alongside his singing and guitar work. Get this album; Sean was just that special.

All proceeds go to The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research.

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