One of the biggest tragedies to hit the blues world over the last few decades — right up with the helicopter crash that killed Stevie Ray Vaughan, in our opinion — was the passing of another extremely talented young guitarist and singer named Sean Costello, who died of an accidental overdose the night before his 29th birthday back in 2008. From his work backing Susan Tedeschi on her smash Just Won’t Burn to his own terrific solo recordings, one gets the sense Costello was just beginning to reveal his abilities to the world, an observation that’s been further confirmed through several posthumous albums released over the past decade.
We don’t know if there’s more of Sean’s music somewhere that still hasn’t been released, and there may never be anyone who can perform Sean’s songs with quite the same power and emotion as Sean himself, but quite a few of the artists on the Costello tribute album Don’t Pass Me By (Landslide Records) do come awfully close, with the album — which focuses on Costello’s original material and benefits The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for the research of bi-polar disease — doing a superb job of capturing Costello’s spirit and grit both vocally and on guitar, from Albert Castiglia‘s country-rocking take on “Same Old Game” (which makes for quite an appropriate opener being that the collection is itself, as Costello wrote in its lyrics, “a brand new angle” on Sean’s music, although Castiglia and the other artists here help make the album much more than just “the same old game”) to the creeping, achingly beautiful closer “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home” from Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers) and Amy Helm.
In between come covers — all previously unreleased — of a baker’s dozen of Costello’s other tracks from such recognized musicians and singers as the North Mississippi Allstars, Bob Margolin, and Debbie Davies, as well as several artists whose names may not be as familiar to many, including the soulful grooves of a “She Changed My Mind” from a band called The Electromatics, a quiet, jazzy “All I Can Do” from Seth Walker, and the midtempo rocker “No Half Steppin'” from Sonia Leigh, whose sandpapery vocals and delivery might just be the closest thing you’ll find to a female equivalent of Costello.
The album contains a number of poignant moments, from a “Don’t Pass Me By” on which pianist Victor Wainwright at times sounds eerily similar to Costello, with deep, pained vocals that come across as completely genuine as he belts out such lines as “I never had, the blues so bad” and that occasionally rise to falsetto, to the soaring, very Costello-like guitar licks of The Morning Life‘s “You’re a Part of Me”, and numbers from several musicians who have since moved on to a better place, including a shuffling “I’ve Got to Ride” that features the late Candye Kane on vocals, joined by Laura Chavez on guitar, and a “Hard Luck Woman” from the Nick Miss Band that revisits the powerful vocals of the late Michael Ledbetter. Some of the performers are ones with whom Costello collaborated or played during his career, while others may never have met him but nonetheless appreciated and admired Costello’s work.
Also worth checking out are the tracks from Steve Marriner of Monkeyjunk (“How in the Devil”) and Watermelon Slim and harmonica player Dennis Gruenling (“Who’s Been Cheatin’ Who”), making this whole tribute to Costello one that you want to make certain doesn’t pass you by!
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