It’s often said that in order to play the blues, one has had to have experienced the blues at some point in their life. You can’t really sing tales of hardship and woe if life is peachy keen, that kind of thing. Buggered if I know if that’s true or not, but once you start putting restrictions on who can or cannot play a certain style of music then you are treading on dangerous ground. Take 17 year old Quinn Sullivan for instance. Who knows his personal life? None of our business really, but some killjoys would question his authenticity to the genre given his lack of years. Buddy Guy answers them all by simply saying “players like Quinn come along once in a lifetime”. That’s Buddy Guy, THE Buddy Guy. One of the top five blues guitarists ever. When he sings someone’s praises, you stop and pay attention… and when it’s a 17 year old with three albums under his belt, then you damn sure listen. Quinn Sullivan picked up the guitar as a toddler, performed on national TV aged 6, played for Buddy Guy aged 7, and jammed with Eric Clapton on stage at Madison Square Garden aged 14! Check out some of the footage available online of Quinn playing alongside these guys, it truly is jaw-dropping, and you would be forgiven for thinking that it was a wind up. It isn’t. Quinn Sullivan can play. Hence, he now finds himself on Mascot Label Group, the home of Joe Bonamassa, amongst many others. ‘Midnight Highway’ is the first album in what will hopefully be a long relationship.
It’s a mixed bag of an album. Yes, you can hear the blues on some of the tracks, for instance, ‘Something For Me’ mixes some incredible fretboard work with a hot and sweaty barroom vibe. Sullivan’s vocals are very clean and pure… grit free. Can they be blues without any grit? Ask a handful of blues purists that question, then stand back and watch the squabble begin… or instead, just marvel at his techniques and the way he wrings every note out of his chosen weapon. Rather than continuing with a trad blues approach, Sullivan changes it up on ‘Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming’, which is light and fluffy. Too cheery for the blues, that’s for sure. It’s Stereophonics-lite in places, minus the Kelly Jones gravelly voice. Title track ‘Midnight Highway’ has a laid back feel to it, and benefits from some sweet Hammond organ throughout. Sullivan plays with great restraint on this one, reigning in the fireworks. Having spoken about wanting to get more involved in the songwriting process, Sullivan helps out on three tracks: ‘Eyes For You’, which is a beguiling acoustic track, ‘Lifting Off’, which could have been written for any rising male pop starlet, and the gorgeous acoustic ‘Going’. The songwriting will come with more life experience. Life throws some shit at you, and with each mile travelled, he will surely advance as a songwriter.
‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ was/is perhaps George Harrison’s finest moment, and Quinn Sullivan follows in the footsteps of Eric Clapton, Jeff Healey, and Carlos Santana by covering one of the greatest guitar songs ever. Sullivan’s version is superb. True to the original, no wacky off-centre interpretation, heartfelt and emotional, with many incredible solos throughout. Eight minute long instrumental, ‘Buffalo Nickel’, finishes the album off with aplomb, with dynamic playing from Sullivan that puts many a shredder to shame. ‘Midnight Highway’ highlights a musician evolving and refusing to be tied down to one particular genre. Yes, you can hear the blues throughout, but you’ll also hear some breezy pop mixed in with a little bit of soul. The guitar playing is hair-raising, never flash though. If this is how he plays at such an early age, one can only imagine how he will sound aged 27… aged 37…
Available now through Mascot Label Group
Review: Dave Stott