Posthumous releases are a difficult thing to wade through for music fans as so often they represent subpar work being foisted off on fans still hungry for more music from the fallen by greedy record labels and/or families looking to cash in. Fortunately, that's not true of Sean Costello's At His Best - Live- well, not entirely true.
Costello died of an accidental drug overdose at the age of 28 in his hotel room in Atlanta in 2008. Proceeds from this album are being donated to the foundation established in Costello's name by his family, The Sean Costello Memorial Fund for Bipolar Research.
Costello's legend and legacy have grown in the wake of his passing as he was viewed by many as a rising star in the blues world as a brilliant guitarist, soulful singer, and emerging songwriter. This live collection mostly serves that legacy well, finding him playing and singing well throughout the majority of these 16 performances.
The lone disappointment in At His Best is the inconsistencies within it, which is common in these posthumous releases. The album opens with a sensational "San-Ho-Zay," an oft-covered instrumental written by the great Freddie King. Costello doesn't perform this as a note-by-note recitation of the original, instead remaining true to the song's foundation while also expanding on it and bringing his own gifts to bear. The sound quality of the recording is also quite good.
The same can't be said for "Blue Shadows," where the recording quality is better than a standard-issue bootleg but fails to fully capture the performance. Costello is a little shaky with the vocal, as well.
Those first two songs give a pretty good indication of what's to come throughout the rest of the album. There are moments when the recording is good some with a few glitches, where amplifiers buzz or crowd racket interferes with what was happening on stage. Costello is mostly steady and at times scintillating, with a few moments where he doesn't quite nail it. Nothing on the album is bad or unlistenable, and we're reminded this a collection of live performances culled from available tapes rather than a preplanned live album.
The surprising moment for me was how well he handled the great Magic Sam's "All Your Love." I didn't grow up on Magic Sam but have quickly immersed myself in his all too brief career and very few artists have tackled his material with anything close to the power of the original. Costello doesn't outdo Sam but absolutely holds his own.
Sean Costello was a talented young man with a bright future and he remains a respected, beloved figure in the blues community and his presence is missed and not just because of the music he won't make. At His Best - Live may not paint the full portrait of that remarkable ability but fans will find plenty of examples of it, especially those who never saw him live or those who discover him after his passing.