May 24, 2024

There is something wrong with the universe somewhere. Massachusetts-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Quinn Sullivan first picked up a guitar when he was just three years old and started taking lessons straight away. He made his first TV appearance at the age of six, played on-stage with Buddy Guy at age eight, toured as Buddy’s support act from the age of ten and released his first album, Cyclone, at age twelve. The only explanation I can come up with is that he was already at least ten years old when he was born.

Now aged 24, he has just released his fifth studio offering, Salvation, and I have to say this right at the start – he’s damn good. To me, this set epitomizes the expression blues-rock – it’s clearly based in blues chords and scales, but there are no straight 12-bar jams on here; every song is a carefully crafted masterclass in production, and the whole album is charging, riffy, upbeat and entertaining.

Quinn Sullivan contemplates the universe (photo by Jim Arbogast)

It kicks off with thudding drums, before launching into the rocking shuffle of Dark Love, which also became the album’s second single. The arrangement is satisfyingly complex and contains a nice piano solo, then the guitar solo ranges through a number of key modulations before returning to the main theme.

Track two is arguably the pivotal number on the album, named Salvation (Make Me Wanna Pray). Sullivan doesn’t confess any particular religious feelings; rather Salvation for him is finding a way to cope with trauma. In this case, the album was composed in the wake of the sudden death of his mother, and he says its her strength and influence that pervades the whole set. Clearly, the album was named after this this feeling and this song, which was also released as the lead single – watch the featured video at the foot of this page.

Rise Up Children is a deep south, straight guitar boogie with clacking drums and loose, fuzzy guitar chords. This is followed by Don’t Wanna Die Today, which starts on a double-tracked, rapid guitar riff, and rocks out a bit more than the preceding numbers. But still, the catchy choruses give it a melodic edge, before a tight but unexpected ending.

Up till now, it’s been rock all the way, but there is no aggression in Sullivan’s smooth, easy voice – whatever the subject matter, he somehow contrives to make it sound like he’s having a good time. There’s a change in direction for Once Upon A Lie though, the first light, poppy number of the set. Its smooth, jazzy vibe owes more to Ibiza dance than to pub rock; there’s a Daft Punk influence and a sweet, clear-toned, jazzy solo followed by a more overdriven section with a strong flavour of the Isley Brothers – a really well put-together piece. Better In Love slows it down even more, an actual ballad with ambient chords, ticking percussion and swelling cymbals.

Leave No Love Behind takes another unexpected turn, with a twangy 1960s guitar line with loads of reverb, and a downbeat groove that could easily have come from early Dire Straits. This is accentuated by the tasteful soloing, which definitely has a Mark Knopfler feeling to it. Another unexpected twist comes with the thudding, basic shuffle of I Can’t Stay (& You Can’t Go), with its pub blues guitar riff and basic arrangement – as if to underline that he certainly can play straight-ahead blues-rock when he feels like it.

That’s enough contemplation (photo by Jim Arbogast)

It’s strange; Sullivan claims to be a genre-less artist, and although the album is clearly all the same guy, with a cohesive style of its own, there is no lack of variety. For Nothin’ Gonna Change My Mind, he suddenly pulls the Tower Of Power horn section out of the wardrobe, and we have a full jazz-funk arrangement. It starts with that ticking hi-hat again, with a funky guitar riff and bubbly bass, some wah guitar deep in one channel, and a string machine bolstering the centre. Suddenly, at 2½ minutes, there is some screaming sax way in the background, and someone starts whacking a tambourine. The singing style and whole sound is firmly in the soul genre, but it’s beautifully constructed, and takes the album’s already-impressive production to a whole new level.

Eyes on me is another soul number, a slow ballad this time, with a sitar line, of maybe a guitar with a sitar effect on it, just because, why not? Half My Heart is a ‘60s pop ballad with some neat falsetto vocals before a strident guitar solo, reminiscent of the Carpenters’ Goodbye To Love, and then a rare fadeout to finish the album.

Or not quite, as it turns out, because there is a live bonus track, a minor-key driving pop-rocker called Eyesight To The Blind. t’s all clear-toned, which pushes it more towards Cheap Trick or McFly than any of the really heavy rockers, with a guitar riff in one channel and chords in the other. But the mix is beautiful, and everything is separated perfectly. Frenetic drums build the song to a nice, rocky solo, and a tight ending.

It’s not fair, really it isn’t. Sullivan is an excellent guitarist, not a shredder by any means, but a thoughtful and expressive soloist, and he has a great voice. His songwriting has come on in leaps and bounds too; he only had a sprinkling of writing credits on his first couple of albums, but he has written or co-written everything on the last two. And he’s still only 24. How is that possible?

Salvation by Quinn Sullivan is released on 7 June 2024 via Provogue / Mascot