Former Gregg Allman Band Musical Director/Guitarist Scott Sharrard Joins Up With Hi Rhythm Section & Swampers On ‘Saving Grace’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Gregg Allman’s guitarist and Musical Director for ten years, Scott Sharrard, has been immersed in soul and blues since he first started playing as a teenager. Knowing that Saving Grace was recorded at Electraphonic Recording in Memphis and at FAME in Muscle Shoals immediately tags it as a soulful album. Yet, one listen to Scott Sharrard & The Brickyard Band from a few years back, recorded in Brooklyn, will quickly reveal that this is not new territory for him. What is new, of course, are his accompanists for this album, the legendary Hi Rhythm Section (Howard Grimes, Rev. Charles Hodges, and Leroy Hodges) and the equally famous Swampers (David Hood, Spooner Oldham) as well as Taj Mahal singing the last song that Gregg Allman and Sharrard co-wrote, “Everything a Good Man Needs.” For extra measure that tune features Bernard Purdie on drums. Horns are from the acclaimed Bo-Keys, with their leader, Scott Bomar (Al Green too) co-producing and handling the mixing.

Sharrard is perfectly comfortable in these settings. He was mentored at an early age in Chicago by drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and pianist Pinetop Perkins. Raised in Milwaukee, he soaked in the sounds of Luther Allison and Hubert Sumlin, to name just a few. He just wanted to make an authentically Southern blues and soul album in two of music’s greatest shrines. Scott says, “These guys are legends and heroes of ours who have played on so many life-changing records. This record was steeped in the best the South has to offer. We cut the rhythm section and lead vocals live on the floor, direct to tape. Old School. We let the songs and the band speak.”

Fresh off last year’s Grammy-nominated Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood, (also recorded at FAME) Sharrard re-establishes himself as a stellar frontman. The opening track “High Cost of Loving You” beams with the identifiable drums of Grimes, Hodges’ B3, with the horns and backup singers long associated with the Memphis sound, underpinning Sharrard’s guitar soaring high into blue yonder. The acoustic-driven cover of Terry Reid’s “Faith to Arise” has Sharrard playing slide guitar in the style of his heroes, the ABB. That leads into the slow blues of the title track, where his vocals and lead guitar are spotlighted, with support from just three musicians, Chad Gamble (Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit) on drums, Hood on bass, and excellent keyboardist Eric Finland. Taj Mahal follows with gritty vocals for the Sharrard/Allman tune “Everything a Good Man Needs,” likely intended for a future Allman album, done here as a country blues with horns boosting the sound, even though the track was cut at FAME. Again, Sharrard slices and dices with his slide guitar.

Echoes of Bobby Blue Bland run through the swinging, horn-infused “Angeline,” followed by another Memphis session track, “Words Can’t Say,” complete with an orchestral backdrop. “She Can’t Wait” has some tough, angry lyrics offset by the funky groove and soaring horns in a throwback sound. “Sweet Compromise” brings in gospel and “Tell the Truth” has his most incendiary guitar work. Spooner Oldham makes his lone appearance with his signature Wurlitzer on the country ballad “Keep Me in Your Heart,” before Sharrard lets loose with another fiery guitar excursion. Sharrard closes in style, echoing classic Memphis grooves of Otis Redding, Steve Cropper and The Memphis Horns on a Stax-sounding finale “Sentimental Fool.”

Gregg Allman said it best – “I know all about guitar players – I’ve seen the very best. Scott Sharrard understands that you don’t need to play just for the sake of playing…he leaves plenty of room for everyone else to do their thing, but when it’s time to solo, Scott delivers, boy.” That quote well summarizes this effort too but what’s probably most surprising to those who haven’t heard Sharrard, is what a soulful, expressive singer he is. He’s forging his own signature sound, what he calls ‘real rock n’ roll’, a blend of blues, jazz, soul, country and folk. It’s Sharrard’s time now.

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