Quinn Sullivan – Midnight Highway
Mascot Label Group/Provogue Records PRD 7518-2
13 songs — 59 minutes
Guitar slinger Quinn Sullivan is barely 18 years old, but he’s already proven himself to be a giant in the world of blues, and this album should go a long way toward convincing any doubters that Buddy Guy was right when he said: “Players like Quinn come along once in a lifetime.”
Born in New Bedford, Mass., in 1999, Sullivan took his first guitar lesson at age three and was proficient enough three years later to debut his talents to the world as a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. By the time he was eight, Guy invited him on stage to trade eights during a concert held in what was once the world capital for the whaling industry.
By the time he was 11, he was a veteran of The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Today Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, had shared the stage with B.B. King and had served a guest artist on Guy’s Grammy-nominated Skin Deep album and as the opening act during one of Buddy”™s East Coast summer tours. Quinn’s first solo album, Cyclone, hit the streets in 2011, followed by Getting There in 2013.
Those works already displayed six-string talents and sensibilities far beyond Sullivan’s tender age, separating himself by light years from the many teenage shredders who’ve debuted to acclaim in recent decades. While many of the others hit a plateau and remain there, Quinn’s progressed strongly as a singer and songwriter in the four years since his most recent release.
Sullivan co-wrote three of the tunes on Midnight Highway, which was recorded in Nashville with Tom Hambridge. A Grammy-winning producer, drummer and songsmith, Hambridge supervised the work in addition to handling percussion duties and writing the nine other originals that compose the bulk of the disc. They’re joined by an all-star lineup of Reese Wynans and Tony Harrell on keyboards and Michael Rhodes and Tommy MacDonald on bass with Rob McNelley and Bob Britt on guitars. Sarah Hambridge provides harmony vocals and Zach Allen digital programming on one cut each.
A sustained solitary guitar note introduces the romantic rocker “Something For Me,” which opens the set. Quinn’s singing is electronically altered at first, but quickly gives way to his natural voice — strong, clear and mid-range. His guitar solos feature single-note runs, holding back on psychedelia until the closing chords.
Sullivan’s back in control for a pleasant medium-tempo love song, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming,” delivered atop a syncopated drum pattern with a lush pop feel, before the bluesy cover tune, “Midnight Highway,” a gentle ballad puts his pipes on display as it conveys the message that Quinn’s got to keep moving forward, willing to share the world with his lady if she wants to come along for the ride.
The funky “Crazy Into You” follows before a pair of tunes on which Sullivan shares credit. The acoustic “Eyes For You” keeps the message going forward as Quinn shows takes a break from the blues rock that preceded it and shows off his fingerpicking talent. The driving “Lifting Off” returns to the previous format before things quiet down for “She Gets Me” and heat up dramatically again for “Rocks.”
The Sullivan-penned “Going” is another acoustic ballad. It gives way to the medium-fast shuffle “Graveyard Stone” before the tempo changes again for the lush ballad, “Big Sky.” The only cover in the set — a straightforward take on George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — shows that Quinn can hold his own on a classic before showing off his immense guitar skills on the eight-minute instrumental “Buffalo Nickel” to bring the action to a close.
Available through most major retailers, Midnight Highway is well-modulated throughout, and Sullivan is in complete control. If you’re into blues rock, you’ll like this one. Quinn’s star is already high in the sky, but it’s definitely on the ascendant. One criticism, however: This is the first CD I’ve even encountered that’s of normal size east-to-west but of equal size north-to-south, making it oversized by more than a half-inch and thereby difficult to place within a collection.