Teenage guitar prodigy. Produced by Tom Hambridge. Two phrases that don’t exactly fill me with confidence. Too often the whizz kids suffer from PR types recklessly raising expectations. And regular readers may have picked up on my doubts about the credentials of American uber-producer Hambridge.
Fair play though, the latter has done a nifty job of helming this third album by 17 year old plank spanker Quinn Sullivan, who does his own reputation no harm either with his playing and singing here.
|Quinn Sullivan - the kid stays in the picture|
Midnight Highway is a fresh and bright collection of songs, well executed by Sullivan, Hambridge (on drums), and some of the latter’s usual studio henchmen such as keyboard player Reese Wynans. But anyone thinking that Sullivan’s association with Buddy Guy and past support slot for B.B. King means this is going to be wall-to-wall blues is going to be disappointed. This is a diverse set that ranges from chunky R’n’B to AOR, from country-style fingerpicking to power pop.
The cover of ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ is indicative of Sullivan’s twin influences of the Beatles and the blues, and if it’s a pretty faithful reading it’s also fresh and modern-sounding, with Sullivan delivering some accomplished soloing – no bar band rendition, this.
The tougher end of the Sullivan sound is apparent in the opening ‘Something For Me’ and the later ‘Rocks’. The former opens with a 78rpm style muffled vocal and drumbeats with an underlying drone, giving way to modern R’n’B featuring trills of jazzy piano from Wynans and subtly squealing guitar from Sullivan. The latter is a suitably titled bit of simple boogie with shuffling drums, and an interesting ‘collapse’ into the middle eight and guitar solo – it may be slight, but it’s nicely done indeed. ‘Graveyard Stone’ serves up a funkier Sixties soulful angle - with ‘Hush’-like guitar and organ riffing it’s a bit shag-a-delic, baby.
The power pop comes in the shape of ‘Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming’, a catchy little number with jangling guitar chords and vocal harmonies that could have been been delivered unto us by – wait for it – McFly. It’s as bright and airily constructed as something Kevin McCloud might admire on Grand Designs, but if that’s just too damn teenage girly for you there’s always ‘Crazy Into You’, which manages to inject a glossy blues feel into the pop vibe, with staccato rhythm guitar, a succession of neat guitar fills, some more tasty organ from Wynans – and a catchy chorus. ‘Lifting Off’ may be a less snazzy song, but it’s still sonically interesting, with some interesting guitar tones and falsetto vocals – at which point I should note that while Sullivan’s voice may still be a bit boyish, his singing is more than capable throughout.
The title track has something of an Eagles feel to it, with pinging guitar notes and more tasteful organ, and if ‘Eyes For You’ has a rather naff lyric it still demonstrates that Sullivan can convey a convincing acoustic country feel.
There are also a couple of interesting instrumentals: the rippling ‘Big Sky’ edges towards Steve Howe-like guitar with echoing piano accompaniment before settling into something more mainstream; and the closing ‘Buffalo Nickel’ is in post-Hendrix mode, spacy and effects laden, with Sullivan practically getting his guitar to talk as matters progress towards a high revving finale, with Hambridge going on a disciplined tour of his kit at the finish.
Midnight Highway might not be a tour de force, but it is a highly professional outing from a talented kid who lives up to the expectations created for him, ably supported by some quality musicians and some sympathetic production from Hambridge. I’m impressed – and pleasantly surprised.