Sari Schorr & The Engine Room + Ash Wilson
Monday 20th March
The Borderline, London
Sari Schorr & The Engine Room's current UK tour, which began last week, stopped off at London's nicely refurbished Borderline last Monday night. Currently on a crest of a wave following the release of their critically acclaimed debut album 'A Force Of Nature', we were lucky enough to present the band with our 2016 Best Blues Rock performance award backstage prior to the gig - our thanks to Manhaton Records, Noble PR and of course, the band, for making us so welcome on the night. Now missing its infamous pillar in the middle of its main standing area, Sari and the guys, as expected, rocked the new joint - although a major bonus on the evening was special guest Ash Wilson from Lincolnshire - who took his soon to be released debut album 'Broken Machine' to another level with a stunning live set mostly taken from the new album including 'The Revelator' (from the album 'Big Blues' with Jesse Davey), 'Peace & Love', 'Out Of Time', 'Broken Machine', 'Words Of A Woman', and 'Worlds Gone Crazy'. The album is out on Friday 21st April with Ash also a special guest on Dan Patlansky's UK tour in April and May.
Anyway, the 90 minute main event was indeed Sari Schorr & The Engine Room who deliver hard-driving Blues-Rock, influenced by the late '60's British Blues movement and mixes Blues, Rock and Soul with concrete melodies and poetic lyrics to striking effect. The album was produced by the legendary Mike Vernon (Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Blues Breakers and David Bowie) which features Walter Trout, Innes Sibun and Oli Brown - although the Borderline roster was Innes on guitar, Kevin Jefferies on bass, Anders Olinder on keys and Kevin O'Rourke on drums. And despite it being the proverbial Monday night graveyard shift - there was a healthy crowd eagerly awaiting in anticipation.
Understandably their setlist was pretty much in line with their album launch show at Putney's Half Moon last September with the first track off the album 'Ain't Got Not Money' - Sibun's Gary Moore reminiscent style intro with New Yorker Schorr's powerful earthy vocal testing the newly refurbished Borderline sound system. Sibun's rockin' solo and Olinder's keys on 'Demolition Man', again forcefully sung and written by Schorr, was followed by the opening groovy rhythm guitar of Innes on 'Cat And Mouse' which saw both Sibun and Olinder excelling again. Schorr's tribute to Lead Belly with a great cover of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' was equalled by their barnstorming cover of 'Rock And Roll' - Innes accordingly celebrating his Robert Plant heritage - before 'Letting Go', with its big finish, was complemented by excellent vocals by Sari and keys from Anders. The stand-out on the album - the melody and harmonics of 'Kiss Me' - not only saw Sibun revelling in a riff/chorus/solo that rocks out big time, but once again gave Sari the opportunity to sing the line about her beloved Pit Bulls!
Despite teething problems with both the Borderline's sound and lighting - Sari and the guys soldiered on - with Sari resting her voice as Innes led the band into a classic cover of Freddie King's instrumental 'The Stumble' which cooly set us up for another Blues standard - T-Bone Walker's 'Call It Stormy Monday' - with Olinder's delightful opening keys, Innes' jaw-dropping fretwork and Sari's sultry vocal - this was the stand-out for me on the night and showed the class of this band - not forgetting the literal 'Engine Room' of Jefferies and O'Rourke. Two new tracks (for me) sandwiched 'AFON's, the mellow and groovy, 'Oklohoma', with its mean fusional outro jam with Anders' keys, another Sibun guitar solo and of course Schorr's excellent lyrical diction. The former 'Don't You Call My Name' and the latter 'American Boy' both kept the Blues Police and momentum in check.
It was then back to 'AFON' for the rest of the set and Lead Belly's 'Black Betty' - with its unique arrangement and Sibun's cajun guitar opening and Schorr's vocal delivery - ultimately resulting in a very powerful version of this classic. There was no let up in Schorr's vocal on the beautifully crafted 'Damn The Reason' - with Olinder's keyboards and another trademark Sibun guitar solo. The clunky opening riff of 'Aunt Hazel' - based on urban slang for heroin - resulted in both Sari and Innes letting us have it both barrels with this rocker. Once again, the irony of the evening was that if you were to have walked into the gig for their encore 'Ordinary Life' (which is also the last track on the album) you could have been forgiven for getting the wrong end of the stick with its genre. However, it's a measure of Schorr's versatility, with Anders Olinders' beautiful keyboard intro, that there is nothing ordinary about this ballad - the crystal clarity of Schorr's vocals all for everyone to see and hear. Another beautiful end to an awesome set. Make sure you catch these guys before their UK tour ends in May!