As you might imagine, there are plenty of blues guitarists we’d love to go back and see live if we had the time machine to do so, including the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush, T-Bone Walker, Luther Allison, Johnny Copeland, and Freddie and Albert King, to name just a few. For many of these artists, that would mean having to go back several decades to catch them, but there’s at least one other blues slinger worth adding to this list who’s been gone less than a decade, in the late Atlanta musician Sean Costello.
Costello, you may remember, was a rising star who died of an accidental drug overdose in April 2008 on the eve of his 29th birthday, after which it became public that Sean had battled bipolar disorder. Back in September, we told you about a benefit show that was taking place in Chicago for the fund that was established in Sean’s name to help in research, outreach and treatment efforts for bipolar disorder. You can find the video from that event – featuring a terrific line-up of musicians that included Billy Boy Arnold, Tom Holland & the Shuffle Kings, Long Tall Deb, Johnny Iguana, Richard Rosenblatt, Nico Wayne Toussaint, Dave Herrero, and Felix Reyes, among others – on gigity.tv.
The benefit also served as a CD release party for an album of previously unreleased material from Costello entitled In The Magic Shop (VizzTone), recorded back in the fall of 2005 at Grammy Award-winning producer Steve Rosenthal’s New York City studio The Magic Shop. The album wouldn’t be mixed until almost nine years later – in the spring of this year – but we think you’ll agree it was well worth the wait, capturing the Philadelphia-born Costello working effortlessly through a mix of soft ballads such as the jazzy “Trust in Me” with its passionate, sometimes breathy, soul-filled vocals to a country-flavored take on Rod Stewart’s “You Wear It Well” featuring Jimi Zhivago on the 12-string National guitar to the John Mellencamp/Americana feel of the gritty, harder-rocking “Feel Like I Ain’t Got a Home”.
Though not strictly a blues album, blues was of course at the center of much of what Costello did, so there are plenty of blues notes and lyrics to be heard. That includes the album’s opening number, a moaning- and groaning-filled cover of the B.B. King classic “It’s My Own Fault” that offers a whole lot of bite well before Costello’s gritty vocals ever even kick in (more than three-quarters of the way through) with the song’s sole verse, buoyed further by some terrific tickling of the ivories from Paul Linden.
That’s followed by the breezy R&B of “Can’t Let Go”, as well as a lightly rocking “Hard Luck Woman” that features Linden on both harmonica and keyboards, while Ray Hangen and Melvin Zachery hold down the rhythm on drums and bass, respectively. A cover of Fenton Robinson’s “You Don’t Know What Love Is” offers some nice deep grooves, before Costello unleashes a catchy, uptempo take on Bobby Womack’s “Check It Out” with Linden on vibraphone, along with a creeping, Beatles-esque “Told Me a Lie” that’s set to an intriguing bassline.
“I Went Wrong” is a softer tune with an R&B/soul feel, while the deep-voiced, funky “Make a Move” is a perfect example within one song of what you’ll hear from Costello more broadly on the project with its mix of troubled and inspiring lyrics such as “we all have troubles on our mind” and “you’ve got love in your heart, and you’ve got music in your soul” and “now’s the time to go ahead and make a move”, in addition to being one of several tracks to include some rich background vocals. The album closes on a slow, soulful “Fool’s Paradise” (Sam Cooke) that finds Linden on both Wurlitzer and Hammond B3, with Costello heard asking “Pretty good, huh?” at the song’s end.
But “pretty good” is a bit of an understatement, as In The Magic Shop is another superb display of Costello’s talents not only as a guitarist but also as a singer and songwriter, blending elements of many of the great blues guitarists named at the start of this post. All profits from the CD benefit the Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research, giving yet another fine reason to, as Sean sings here, “just check it out”.
And we’re pretty sure that, in doing so, Costello could very well end up on your time machine list as well.
Here’s Sean doing “Hard Luck Woman” – one of several songs here that also appeared (albeit in slightly different versions) on his 2008 album We Can Get Together, so you’d better check that one out too while you’re at it – at a New York show in 2006: