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With Cuttin’ In, 20-year-old Sean Costello serves up a retro-sounding release that includes gritty jump, raucous Chicago blues and funky New Orleans R&B, all done up with the know-how and agility of an artist twice Costello’s age. Unfortunately, the tinny analog sound – obviously intended to lend a 1950s air to the proceedings - detracts somewhat from the music. Still, the production is not so bad that blues fans should ignore this album.
Costello first gained attention as the hot lead guitarist in Susan Tedeschi’s band. He played on Tedeschi’s smash album Just Won’t Burn when he was just 18. Cuttin’ In is actually Costello’s second solo release, and the music here is so good I may have to track down his first album. Costello comes across as a well-rounded artist. He sings with emotional intensity, his guitar work is fiery, and his songwriting shows great promise. It's enough to make you forget about Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang.
The album includes some Chicago chestnuts (Willie Dixon’s "I Want to Be Loved" and Otis Rush’s "Double Trouble"), a few choice obscurities (including Junior Watson’s "Cuttin’ In"), as well as three Costello originals. The Chicago tunes bring to mind Muddy Waters’ hard-rocking ‘70s band with Pinetop Perkins, Johnny Winter and Bob Margolin, while the R&B tunes are faithful to the Ace Records sound. Costello’s original compositions reflect his knowledge of both blues and jump. In fact, this whole package is righteously raucous.
Granted, the covers don’t deviate much from the original versions, but they’re played with passion and skill, particularly J. B. Lenoir’s boisterous "Talk to Your Daughter," Earl King’s soulful classic "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights," and a neat version of Blind Blake’s unusual calypso tune "Goombay Rock."
What Cuttin’ In lacks in originality it makes up for with diversity, chops and enthusiasm. Given his fresh-faced good looks and precocious abilities, Sean Costello could be well on his way to blues superstardom.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.