Thursday, April 24, 2008

R.I.P. Jeff Healey & Sean Costello

I've been struggling to write about the loss of these two fine blues artists for a few weeks now, and I never can get the peace in my soul to finish writing. I start listening to their music and I'm so sad that such creative talents are gone. In some way it is even harder to say Goodbye because the last cd each of them released ("Mess of Blues," 2008, Ruf Records) are both among the very best music each of them produced. The Jeff Healey disc is a rip-roaring punch list of the songs that drew the most audience response, and there's not a stinker in the bunch. This guy loved to be on stage--you can see it in all the videos on You Tube--and he loved entertaining the audience with music. We are left with smoking versions of "How Blue Can You Get" and "Sitting On Top Of The World" (which in my opinion are the best things on "Mess of Blues") and a yawning hole of "what might have been" with Jeff. He truly loved old timey jazz and he was frustrated by the limitations that were involved in playing the blues, but if you see those as the two directions he was growing towards, what a cool synthesis he might have brought forth if he had lived. The man had another 30 years ahead of him!

And so did Sean Costello, at least. Sean Costello was doing it right--he had released four cds and every one of them shone with promise. He understood that playing the blues was to follow in the footsteps of those who had gone before him. Step by step Sean was making good music, interesting music, music that had history and truth in the grooves. His last cd ("We Can Get Together" 2008, Delta Groove) is by far his best--his fretwork is glowing, and the vocals sound like a much older soul, singing with love and passion. He wrote all but two of the songs. He sings and plays great. He does two songs with the Northside Men's Choir from the Northside Tavern, which was like Sean's second home. He does a song called "Going Home" which just makes me cry. Again, the hardest part is that Sean could have, would have, made so much more great music over the next thirty years.

These guys did the blues world proud, and there is no easy explanation of their passing. No hint of drugs, no stupid behavior, no reason that we can pin our grief on. Jeff died of cancer and we don't know why Sean died. The passing of both these young men is a terrible loss--on both musical and personal levels. I lift up prayers for their families and friends.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Review: Fathead "Building Full of Blues"

Fathead is a 5 piece band that has been making blues music in Canada since 1995. I have to thank Jon Norton, music director at WGLT-FM in Normal, Illinois, for bringing them to my attention. Their latest cd, "Building Full of Blues" (Electro-Fi, 2007) is an unexpected treat. The band consists of John Mays (lead vocals), Al Lerman (harp & tenor saxophone, vocals), Omar Tunnoch (bass, vocals), Darran Poole (guitar) and Bucky Berger (drums). They won the Juno award (the Canadian Grammy) for Blues Recording of the year in 1998 for their second cd " Blues Weather." The first time I listened to this cd I laughed out loud with joy. Fathead is a PRIMO blues band--they make beautiful tight music, music to enjoy whatever your mood might be. This cd reminds me in the best way of another great cd--John Namath's "Magic Touch" (Blind Pig, 2007). Both cds are all so well-played, so well-written that it is hard for me to imagine a time when this music, this cd, this band did not exist. How did I get along without this? It seems like I have to ask--what took me so long to discover Fathead? Check out their website at