If you haven’t heard of Scott Sharrard (pronounced ‘shur-ard’), then you must have heard of Gregg Allman the late, great keyboard player of the Allman Brothers…well, Scott was Gregg’s musical director for ten years and a co-writer of Grammy-nominated songs on Gregg’s final studio album, ‘Southern Blood’. He also has released four albums under his own name and now graces us with his fifth called Saving Grace. With that kind of pedigree, I guess we should expect plenty of Southern roots, rock, blues and R’n’B…the good news is that Scott does not disappoint and delivers eleven new tracks seeped in that very blend of music. He has also managed to get the Hi Rhythm Section of Memphis, The Swampers of Muscle Shoals and Taj Mahal no less, to back him on this latest release.
This all bodes well for a man born in Michigan on December 28, 1976 (the day the man who would become his hero Freddie King died) and spent his formative years mixing with such greats as Buddy Miles, Hubert Sumlin and Luther Allison. He moved to New York in ’96 with his friend Sean Dixon, with whom he had a band called The Chesterfields; then came a meeting of undoubted serendipity when the (some would say infamous) Atlantic Records executive Ahmet Ertegun got involved and mentored the fledgling band. Ertegun, as quoted by Scott, delivered some sage advice…”you must do it all, and well, if you want to survive as a musician” as in his mind he saw the end of the music business as we knew it. He felt no one was around to support artists as labels and moguls alike did in the 50 and 60s. The Chesterfields released three albums before Sharrard went his own way and released a number of solo albums. He ended up working closely with The Band drummer Levon Helm too and it was through Helm’s daughter Amy, or specifically Amy’s then husband Jay Collins who was already a member, that the dream collaboration with Gregg Allman and his band came about.
Saving Grace was actually completed in 2016 but, showing a laudable level of respect, Scott has delayed its release as Gregg’s health was failing and he helped him concentrate on the Southern Blood recording instead. Now we can all share in the results of two sessions in the hallowed studios of Memphis and Muscle Shoals. The sounds he creates are enhanced (as is my jealousy) by the fact that Scott was lucky enough to be granted access to Duane Allman’s collection of instruments and here he uses no less than the 1957 Les Paul Goldtop regularly heard on Duane’s recordings. On to the music…
Opener, High cost Of Loving You, sets out his stall with energy, depth and an innate awareness of what constitutes southern rock. The B3, horns and backing illuminated by the guitar fuses all that is good in the roots rock and blues canon. It does start with hints of Hush with the drums and the Hammond but quickly becomes a Memphis soul/blues master class. The next is a curiosity, mainly because the writer is the criminally underrated Terry ‘Superlungs’ Reid (a US based Brit with an unbelievable soul inflected voice, who had opportunities to join Purple and Zep before Gillan and Plant…well worth seeking his work out). Here it gets delicious acoustic backing and slide solos that make you melt, and the soulful vocals pay due tribute to the original. Title track, Saving Grace, is slow soul blues with the voice and guitar making this such a strong song that begs to be accompanied by a good glass of wine and lying back, eyes closed and absorbing the quality. Everything A Good Man Needs is Gregg’s last known composition with Scott as co-writer. Taj Mahal is a guest on this horn infused country blues classic in waiting. Scott’s sensitivity with the slide is astonishing. Angeline moves us back to Memphis for some horny R’n’B. This is the only one that doesn’t stand out as being different or special even though it plods along nicely enough. The guitar solo is a standout however and means I will still listen to it regularly. A ballad is presented with warm Hammond and orchestration: Words Can’t Say is a soul pop song that, for me, jars with the rest of this exceptional album. Except, that is, for that guitar, which again is so empathetic and clever. She Can’t Wait ups the pace a little, and provides a lift in counterpoint to the bittersweet lyrics. This is a blend of soul and funk with the ascending horns and chord patterns, with a guitar solo that, in another’s hand would be out of place. A change of Memphasis (sorry, just made that up, but it seemed to fit) as the gospel-tinged shuffle of Sweet Compromise gets the foot tapping again, especially during the lovely Hammond and guitar solos. Blazing guitar again gives that added dash of drama as Scott voices his appeal to Tell The Truth over horns and soaring backing vocals. The piano on the country ballad, Keep Me In Your Heart lulls before a beautiful slide solo makes another vivid contribution. Album closer, Sentimental Fool, is almost pure Stax with the horns and Hammond but with, you guessed it, the guitar lifting it to another level.
This is a hugely enjoyable album although it may lean a bit too much toward soul for some. Put that aside and listen to eleven tracks of soulful blues with every single one of them having a brilliant piece on the guitar.
I will leave Scott to sum this up better than me, as he does it so succinctly…”it’s rock n’ roll rooted in everything else”.
NINEdoodle paws out of TEN …
- High Cost Of Loving You
- Faith To Arise (Terry Reid)
- Saving Grace
- A Good Man Needs (Sharrard/Gregg Allman)
- Words Can’t Say
- She Can’t Wait
- Sweet Compromise
- Tell The Truth
- Keep Me In Your Heart
- Sentimental Fool
Scott Sharrard: guitar, vocals
Eric Finland: B3, piano, electric piano
Moses Patrou: drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals
Chad Gamble: drums
Bernard Purdie: drums
The Hi Rhythm Section of Memphis: Howard Grimes, Rev. Charles Hodges, Leroy Hodges
The Swampers of Muscle Shoals: David Hood, Spooner Oldham
The Bo Key Horns
Taj Mahal: vocals on Everything A Good Man Needs
Produced by Scott Sherrard with Charles Martinez and Scott Bomar
Recorded in Memphis and the FAME studios in Muscle Shoals.