Sean Costello has the heart of a blues man, even when he’s not playing the blues. And lately he’s been trying on all sorts of styles for size.Best known for the way he coaxes his guitar into smooth blues riffs, the 25-year-old is breaking out of his shell on his fourth and self-titled album (Tone Cool/Artemis). He’s caught a lot of slack for being so young and singing the blues, but Costello believes people are misinformed. He said music is music. Whether you’re young, old, black, white, male or female, it’s about emotion. Music is music and Costello’s always been a smokin’ guitarist, but with age, the Atlanta native is gaining a perspective that is changing his music – for the better.There was a time, early in his career, when Costello (no relation to Elvis Costello) would play only blues. He was hot-headed and young. He wanted to follow in the foot steps of his heroes and maintain the blues fundamentals of the golden era of records from the ’50 and ’60s. “I was close-minded. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated other music. A lot of ground has been broken in a lot of different areas, and I think we should mix as much as we can to create new music,” he said.
The 13-track album carries elements of blues with lots of soul, r&b, rock’n’roll and gospel. He does a soulful version of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate” backed by drummer Levon Helm of The Band. He gets funky with Al Green’s “I’m a Ram,” featuring Mark Pender’s stupendous trumpet playing and Glenn Patscha on the Hammond organ. Costello wrote seven of the tracks, including “Father,” a desperate and soulful, muddy ballad, “Don’t Pass Me By,” a sentimental bluesy love letter, and “All I Can Do,” a sweet jazz number.”The album’s more original, more fresh. It’s more me. That’s why it’s self titled. It’s not soul. It’s not blues. It’s not jazz. It’s my interpretation of American music. I tried to emulate classic blues and r&b people on my other records, and this was me. It’s more of a personal statement and less me trying to create something that’s been done.”Costello got into old blues records as a kid. He remembers hearing Howlin’ Wolf for the first time and loving it. The intensity of the music and the sound of the voice and the guitar struck a nerve with the then-11-year-old Costello. At that time, it was the most emotionally direct music he had ever heard, he said, because it was real music with real passion. He continued to play the blues and stepped into the public eye when he and his band joined Susan Tedeschi just after Costello graduated from high school. After a couple years of playing with Tedeschi and playing everyone else’s music, he felt the need to do his own thing.
Four albums later, he has much to say as a musician. His music maintains the truthful emotion of blues no matter what he’s playing. It’s the same reason he hasn’t written a song in months. He waits for inspiration to come to him. He tells a personal story. It’s not contrived or unfelt.”I’m trying to focus on my songwriting more. I’m comfortable with my playing and singing. If I can bring that up to the same level, I think I’d be pretty good. It’s gratifying to play your own songs.”He gets frustrated that these days anyone can be made into a superstar musician and without even being able to sing or play. “Why should people be listening to Jennifer Lopez when there are so many starving artists that have unbelievable talent,” he asked.
The music industry, he said, answering his own question, is spending big bucks on these pop sensations and that’s what kids are exposed to. Costello would like to see new music, real music reach the masses, while being able to make a living as a musician and not so much by the skin of his teeth.”I’d like to be playing music and people are coming to see me and hear my songs. I’d like to have an audience that knows my material. My ultimate goal is to make a record every year, have a tour bus and play in thousand-seat halls.”Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado
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