The name of the program I saw late afternoon Friday was “Casey Jones Costello Sings the Great American Songbook,” and that is precisely what young Mister Costello did to the delight of a large audience at Java’s on Gibbs Street. A student at Nazareth College with a rare and reassuring passion for the unequalled American songs written between World War I and the coming of rock and roll, Costello has a rich, lovely voice and meticulous phrasing; it is never less than crystal clear. He is a gifted young man with a future of large promise.
His 55-minute program was impressive for its range, "from “Swanee” to “Autumn Leaves,” from “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” to “Bye, Bye Blackbird.” How wonderful to hear these songs performed by somebody young, impassioned, and eager. Behind his singing, it was as if he was saying, “If you listen while I sing these songs, I’ll try to be as honest and direct with them as I can.” It’s a fair deal.
Because Costello is so young, he relies mainly on talent. I heard echoes of Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, and Eddie Fisher in his singing, and he’s more a belter than a crooner at this point. There are also times, occasionally when he sings but mainly when he is talking about the songs, when his judgment is shaky. After working very hard to create a mood during “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” he undermined himself with a heavy-handed joke, and to say that “Mean to Me” is a Doris Day song rather than a Ruth Etting song ignores a much greater singer whose song it originally was. His patter between songs is little more than a selection of clichés from second-rate cabaret acts, and his program was more a list of songs to be worked through than a shaped program that picks up an audience and takes it somewhere else. He needs an act that’s worthy of his talent.
(NOTE: Casey Jones Costello will perform the program again on Saturday, September 22, 7-8 p.m. at Java’s. Admission is free.)