For nine years as Gregg Allman’s lead guitarist and musical director, Scott Sharrard lived and breathed southern rhythm & blues like few have. But Sharrard’s unique jazz, blues and rock ‘n’ roll pedigree traces back a long way to the cities he grew up in along America’s rust belt. Settling in New York 24 years ago, he fell in with a group of roots players linked to Levon Helm, and most recently, joined Little Feat, a serendipitous but very fitting move as he cites the late Lowell George as a primary inspiration.
Locked down in New York City and Woodstock, Sharrard cut “Rustbelt,” his sixth solo album. On it, his experiences, inspirations and artistry coalesce in assured, stunning fashion. Great guitarists are a dime-a-dozen. Gifted guitar stylists that adapt to shifting settings, write absorbing songs and sing them in a voice like the smoothest of grits smothered in red-eye gravy, are a rarity.
Unlike the Memphis and Alabama soul that formed the basis of his previous album, “Saving Grace,” as well as Allman’s final, FAME-cut “Southern Blood” on which he played a major role, “Rustbelt’s” vibrancy lies across a spectrum of styles. Not until the end does Sharrard take a dip into the southern soul pool, by way of a full-blooded performance of Tommy Tate’s “I Ain’t Gonna Worry.”
Although Sharrard’s nine new songs — 10, counting the adventurous title instrumental’s reprise — cover extensive ground, they’re all easily appealing and robust in sound, driven by his touring combo and several notable guests. “Bad News,” a fat, funky rocker with a Delta bent, opens the album in catchy-as-hell fashion. When Sharrard hits a “Hey baby!” in voice like John Hiatt at his most soulful, he follows it up with two full minutes of sweaty guitar. “On the Run Again” changes the pace to a medium-soulful gait. Full of sweeping piano, weeping slide guitar, and gorgeous Catherine Russell-led backing vocals, it recalls Jackson Browne in his prime.
“Michigan Sunset,” written about a friend of his dad who went to Vietnam as a conscientious objector and did not come home, reveals cold, hard truths amid delicate, intense folk balladry. Levon’s daughter, Amy Helm, adds mournful backing vocals to it, and Little Feat’s Billy Payne provides stout piano. Later, in a roundabout way, “Too Many Losers” strikes at the cause of the pain related in “Michigan Sunset,” providing relief by way of a bebop ride in the vein of jazz great Grant Green.
Closing ideally with a meandering, rickety, solo blues take on Dr. John’s “A Losing Battle,” Rustbelt altogether resounds with personality, reflection and effervescent flavor.
- Scott Sharrard
- Label: Immediate Family Records
- Release: Sept. 10, 2021