Sean Costello
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Sean Costello


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"Costello branches out from the blues"

Music Previews By Steve Newton
Publish Date: January 4, 2007

The world is full of wicked blues guitarists, but few are as downright tasty as 25-year-old Sean Costello. He started playing at the age of nine, shortly after moving from Philadelphia to Atlanta, absorbing the skills of the sharpest pickers around. “Hubert Sumlin was the first guy to really catch my ear,” recalls Costello from his Atlanta home, before citing Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, and Freddie King as influential too. He quickly adds swing-jazz players Charlie Christian and Tiny Grimes to the list, and “the Muscle Shoals guys”, Eddie Hinton and Jimmy Johnson. “Steve Cropper is a big hero of mine too,” he offers, not wanting to leave anyone out.

By the time he was 14, Costello had won an award from the Memphis Blues Society; three years later he released his first album, Call the Cops. He now has four CDs under his belt, although it’s his playing on Susan Tedeschi’s gold-selling debut, Just Won’t Burn, that has managed to reach the most ears so far. He recorded most of his work on that disc before graduating from high school. “They flew me up to Boston and paid me, like, 600 bucks and I thought I’d hit the big time,” he says. “It was my band backing her up, and we were touring, and all of a sudden she blew up and got that gold album. I wasn’t expecting that; I thought I was just makin’ a little record.”

Costello’s latest album shows him branching out from traditional Chicago-style blues to incorporate more funky and soulful sounds. The self-titled disc—which features appearances by bass god Willie Weeks and legendary drummer Levon Helm—was recorded in New York City at the Magic Shop, which is owned by producer Steve Rosenthal (the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed). “I wanted to branch out and do some different sorts of songs,” notes Costello, “and Steve just helped me feel comfortable with that.”

Rosenthal was responsible for hooking Costello up with Weeks, as well as with the horn section from Conan O’Brien’s band (trumpeter Mark Pender and saxophonist Jerry Vivino), which plays on four tracks. Levon Helm’s daughter, Amy, provides backing vocals on five songs, while Costello handles lead vocals and guitar, except for the National Steel that NYC Renaissance man Jimi Zhivago subtly strums on a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate”. When it comes to songwriting influences, Costello rates Dylan number one. “I actually like his singing a lot too,” he points out. “I think he’s a real expressive singer. A lot of people don’t agree with me, but I think he really knows how to deliver a lyric and create an image in your mind. I’ve always been more of a blues/jazz/gospel sorta fan, even as a young kid, but I’ve always liked Dylan’s stuff. Dylan and the Band are probably my favourite rock ’n’ roll artists.” -


Pat Ramsey - It’s About Time - Rampat Records
Bobby Little and the Counts of Rhythm - North Magnolia
Call the Cops - BW136 - Blue Wave
Just Won’t Burn - Tone Cool - Susan Tedeschi
Mikael Santana - In Transit - CD Baby
Cuttin In - Sean Costello - Landslide
Mudcat - Mo’ Better Chicken 30 Miles Up Productions
Moanin’ for Molasses - Sean Costello - Landslide
Jody Williams - Return of the Legend - Evidence
Tribute to Blond on Blonde - Telarc
Ollabelle - (self titled) - Sony Music
Kieran McGee - Anonymous - Stanton Street
Tinsley Ellis - Hard Way - Telarc
Blind Boys of Alabama - I’m Not That Way Anymore - Atlanta International
Sean Costello (self titled) - Tone Cool / Artemis




“I love playing the guitar,” Sean Costello is prone to say. “As a kid I was definitely obsessive over the instrument,” the twenty-five year-old explains, “and for years I felt I could express myself better through the guitar with my own voice. But right now I’m equally driven towards writing songs and expanding my vocal direction,” he adds.

Costello was born in Philadelphia in 1979 and moved with his family to Atlanta at the age of 9. Soon after, he picked up the guitar. By 14 he had won the Memphis Blues Society’s talent award and was already on the road with his own band. In 1996, the 17 year-old released his first album, Call The Cops. Real Blues Magazine called it “an explosive debut.” Around this time Costello joined up with fellow blues guitarist Susan Tedeschi, touring with her and laying down some exuberant lead guitar work on her Gold-certified Tone-Cool debut Just Won’t Burn.

In 2000, when he released Cuttin’ In on Landslide Records, Costello wasn’t even 20 years old and he already had a gold record on his wall. Cuttin’ In earned him a slew of critical acclaim as well as a prestigious W. C. Handy Award nomination for “Best New Artist Debut.” The album received a four and a half star review from the AllMusicGuide and Blues Revue Magazine exclaimed, “Sean Costello blows in like a gust of fresh spring air!” The LA Weekly praised the guitar player by printing, “Costello is the real deal!”

With 2002’s Moanin’ For Molasses, also on Landslide, came a Blues Revue cover story touting Costello as “the top contender to be the next blues star…and soon.” Costello’s hometown paper The Atlanta Journal-Constitution called his guitar playing “masterful” and of “remarkable maturity.” The paper also compared him to such legends as B. B. King, Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

In 2005, Sean Costello was released by Artemis Records. This self-titled volume, produced by Steve Rosenthal (The Rolling Stones, Suzanne Vega, Freedy Johnston) was the guitarist’s fourth release and by far his most diverse and spectacular. In it, Costello shifted gears from Chicago blues to a crafty mixture of soul, funk, upbeat rock and his native blues, joined by some special guests: Levon Helm of The Band sits in on two tracks, as does his daughter, Amy Helm, with her group, Ollabelle. Steve Jordan, Willie Weeks and the Conan O’Brien horn section.

Back in the studio with Steve Rosenthal again, Sean Costello is continuing his musical exploration of old and new musical styles. “So much great music has been made over the past 100 years,” Costello says matter-of-factly. “So much ground has been broken that I feel part of my job as a musician is to combine some of these styles. Mix them up and push the envelope a bit.” This new collection of songs includes “You Wear it Well” (Small Faces) and “Check it Out” (Bobby Womack) but the real gems are the originals. Sean has now come into his own as both a singer and a writer, augmenting his stellar guitar playing. Some of this new music will be featured in his set at SXSW in March 2006, as well as on tour in the U.S. and internationally throughout the year.

Costello, who has been fortunate enough to earn the respect and admiration of many of his own idols, has had the opportunity to sit in with these mentors. He has already shared stages with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, and Bo Diddley to name a few. These extraordinary performers are Sean Costello’s heroes, and it would not be surprising to see him fall in with their ranks one day. “All I’ve ever wanted to do was play the guitar well. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to make a living doing it, and I plan to keep it up for the rest of my life.”