Sari Schoor proves she is “A Force Of Nature” as she and her band, The Engine Room, celebrate the launch of their debut album on the first date of their UK Tour.
05-Sep-2016: It has not been possible to turn on a radio or open a music magazine recently without hearing or reading something about the newest blues singing sensation, New Yorker Sari Schorr, a recent inductee into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. Her performance at the prestigious 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis so impressed legendary producer Mike Vernon (Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall, Blue Horizon, etc.), that he was tempted out of retirement just to produce an album with her.
Naturally, it was with some intrigue that many converge on the Half Moon at Putney, the venue for the official album launch of her much-acclaimed debut album, A Force Of Nature, released just three days prior. Tonight is also the first date on Sari’s month-long tour of the UK, which will culminate with an appearance at a Blues Festival in Brittany in October 2016.
The Half Moon, one of London’s longest running and most respected live music venues since the early 1960s, is an ideal choice for the event. Renowned for its exceptional acoustics and club ambience, some of the biggest names in music have performed here, including The Rolling Stones, The Who, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, The Small Faces, Dr Feelgood, and Van Morrison.
Tonight is the turn of Sari Schorr and her band, The Engine Room. The lineup features amazing blues guitarist, Innes Sibun, who has toured with Robert Plant, Roger Chapman, and Chris Farlowe, and whose own band has opened for Peter Green and Johnny Winter. Kevin Jefferies on bass, Anders Olinder on keyboards, and Kevin O’Rourke on drums complete the band tonight.
An enthusiastic crowd fills the venue in time for The Engine Room to kick off with their opening song (also the new album opener), “Ain’t Got No Money”, a topical song about greed and wealth addiction, its grooving rhythm overlaid with the glorious sound of Innes’ blazing guitar intro.
Sari slips onto the stage, glamorously dressed in a shimmering poncho and statement jewellery, her luscious raven locks flowing from under her cowboy hat. Her deep, rich, and bluesy vocals make clear that this is going to be a momentous evening.
Without waiting for applause, Sari launches straight into another song from the album, the southern blues, “Demolition Man”, which showcases some great southern blues slide guitar, courtesy of Innes. Sari’s powerful, sultry voice is breathtaking, packed with attitude, yet positively smouldering, oozing sensuality. Her sensuous movements and facial expressions heighten the effect, in response to her total immersion in the feel of her songs, evoking the sensuousness of Tina Turner’s stage performances.
After greeting fans and explaining how excited she is about the new album, Sari adds, “It’s a dream come true. Thanks for being part of the dream”.
She follows with another track from the new album, written about a previous record producer with which she worked. The title, “Cat And Mouse”, gives us a good indication of the emotion behind the song about “a lousy producer that was driving me insane”. It’s an upbeat song with a funky, soul-infused groove and a perhaps unintentional hint of ZZ Top’s “New Sunglasses”.
Two covers follow, the first, a mind-blowing version of Lead Belly’s “In The Pines” and Nirvana’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night”, with its notable keyboard intro. Sari’s voice starts off tenderly but builds into the most amazing soaring vocals. Having discarded the cowboy hat, Sari is now able to shimmy and move energetically to her cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll”, shaking her incredible mane of hair, rocking that song with her electrifying powerhouse of a voice. It’s certain that Robert Plant would approve.
Sari presents “Oklahoma”, from the new album, as a tribute to her part of the world. With a 60s psychedelic blues-rock feel to it and a discernable nod to The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm”, the keyboard work is reminiscent of Ray Manzarek. It is pure magic to watch, as Sari and Innes reinforce and feed off each other as his exquisite guitar solo interweaves with her vocals.
It’s clear that Sari’s songwriting is of a personal nature as she touchingly explains that she wrote the next song, “Letting Go”, about the love for someone gone, for Natalie, the late wife of Mike Vernon. A heartfelt ballad, the number demonstrates Sari’s incredible range and vocal expression and features some beautiful heart-wrenching guitar work from Innes.
Introducing “Kiss Me” as a song dedicated to her three Pit Bulls, who “came with her apartment and helped her to write it”, Sari demonstrates what an amazing and charismatic frontwoman she is, energetic and expressive as a performer, her vocals scorching and seductive.
Sari introduces Lead Belly’s “Black Betty” as a song that scared the hell out of her when she was asked to sing it at Carnegie Hall, but it was well received and is now her new single from the album. Sari makes the song her own, interpreting the lyrics with a fantastic new arrangement, which sees her digging down into her lower register, singing the intro as a lament from the Deep South before the full band kicks in and Sari’s vocals explode into full-on power and passion. The vocal tone and control make hairs stand on end, and Innes adds to the thrill with his exceptional, yet restrained blues solo.
A surprise addition to the setlist is the cover of “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, a 1960s Tamla Motown hit for The Supremes, hardly recognisable after it has been reinvented by Sari, with its remarkable blues arrangement. Still full of soul, it sparkles with jaw-dropping fretwork dexterity from Innes, whilst Sari is happy to share the spotlight with him, moving her arms as though she’s weaving a magic spell on him to result in such unearthly talent.
Indeed, throughout the set, the chemistry and rapport between Sari and her fellow musicians are palpable; her total joy at performing with them affirmed by her warm grins and infectiously wide smiles. The arrangements are tight, the band just as much so, that one would think they have played together for years. It looks like Sari’s having the time of her life as knowing, she and Innes exchange satisfied glances.
Sari’s songwriting reflects human emotions and experience, adding to the feeling of intimacy with her audience. She speaks of her commitment to tackle difficult subjects in her songwriting often considered taboo, such as domestic abuse and heroin addiction, offering a different perspective on topics of which no one wants to talk.
To “cheer us up a bit”, Sari announces a couple of such songs. “Damn The Reason” slows the pace with its brooding tempo and sensitively poignant but powerful lyrics about domestic abuse. The vocals are darker, grittier and accompanied by empathetic, wailing cries from Innes’ guitar. “Aunt Hazel” is about the perils of heroin addiction, drawing you in with Sari’s eloquent storytelling and impassioned pleas, accompanied by Innes’ expressive playing, which beautifully mirrors the powerful lyrics.
Sari disappoints the crowd with her announcement that it is now time for the final song of the evening and also the final track on the album, “Ordinary Life”, about the battle between the forces of regret and gratitude. Slow and emotionally intense, this jazz-infused soft blues song beautifully winds down the evening, the calm after the storm and the perfect finale to a night of pure and utter class. “A Force Of Nature” could not have been a more appropriate title for this debut album from an inspiring lady who performs with such fire and passion that she can whip up the emotions of the crowd one minute and quell them the next.
Sari Schorr’s voice has been likened to having the power of Tina Turner or Elkie Brooks combined with the raw emotion of Janice Joplin. Certainly, her voice has power, range, emotional intensity, and passion, but her voice is unique, the tone and delivery so special. She can move with surprising ease from her deep lower register to her higher register, able to belt out a song one minute as easily as she can drop it to soft, tender tones the next. Sari can connect to and hold a crowd in the palm of her hand, not just with her expressive vocals, astounding vocal control, and expertise, but also with her charismatic stage presence, lively banter, and humour.
The Engine Room, deserving of its name, provides the power behind her music. They are a band of skilful musicians who play with passion and finesse; Sari is quick to acknowledge how lucky she is to have the support of such incredible musicians as well as the support of record producer, Mike Vernon.
It is at times like these, when we come across an artist as exceptional as Sari Schorr, that we contemplate how lucky we are for the chance meeting that took place between Sari and Mike Vernon. Sari is clearly a performer of international calibre; we can only wait with anticipation to see where this force of nature takes us next.
Sari Schorr and The Engine Room will be touring the UK from now until the first week of October. With so much critical acclaim for the new album and Sari fast becoming one of the hottest new blues rock singers of 2016. As it’s unlikely that Sari and The Engine Room will play such intimate venues in future, the remaining dates on this tour may be your only opportunity.