Amid all the well-deserved hoopla for Gregory Porter and Cécile McLorin Salvant, there’s another new(ish) vocalist, equally deserving of huzzahs, who remains too far under the radar. He is Sean Sullivan, a West Virginian of Cherokee and French descent, with a dynamic sound that suggests James Taylor meets Boz Scaggs by way of Al Jarreau. There’s a lot of Porter in Sullivan too, not stylistically but with regard to attitude: that same mesmerizing sense of soul-deep sincerity and guileless charm.
Mentored by Jon Hendricks, Sullivan released Square One in 2010, a mix of smart originals and superbly interpreted standards, including a clever take on “Work Song” reimagined as an ode to struggling jazz artists. For his new release, he opts for more contemporary covers, including translucent readings of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” and Stevie Wonder’s “Until You Come Back to Me” and a loose, sly treatment of Michael Frank’s “Jive.” There’s also an appropriately rollicking rendition of Hendricks’ “Gimme That Wine.”
But far greater space is reserved for original tunes, Sullivan demonstrating poetic flair worthy of Taylor or Porter. His expansive palette stretches from the dark, illicit corridors of “A Man’s Woman” and funkified strut of “Ready” to the empowering inward journey of “Wandering Home.” The most persistent theme, befitting so devout an up-and-comer, is music as spiritual quest, addressed in both the vibrant title track with its jazz-filled heaven and more earthily in the blistering “God Is in the Blues.”