Sari Schorr & The Engine Room
Monday 5th September 2016
The Half Moon, Putney, London,
Following their gig at the legendary Paradiso Amsterdam on Saturday, Sari Schorr & The Engine Room stopped off at the equally iconic Half Moon, Putney in London last Monday night on their 'A Force Of Nature' tour. In fact this show was the official album launch party for their critically acclaimed debut album released last Friday! The guys are on a roll at the moment with Sari not only on the cover of this month's Blues In Britain magazine, but also valuable promotion in this month's Classic Rock. When you talk about "keeping music live" - is there a better venue than The Half Moon for mixing with the band and the fans before, during and after a gig? Within moments of walking through the doors of the bar and ordering our first drink of the night - we were already chinwagging with Engine Room guitarist Innes Sibun and a couple of Sari fans from Switzerland (yes really) - and before we knew it we had missed support band Lucas & King (apologies ladies).
Anyway, the 60 minute meat in the sandwich 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) who was there on the night plus the album also features Walter Trout, Innes Sibun and Oli Brown - although the Engine Room Half Moon 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 Half Moon crowd eagerly awaiting in anticipation.
They began appropriately with the first track off the album 'Ain't Got Not Money' - Sibun's Gary Moore reminiscent style intro on New Yorker Schorr's protest against the greed of Wall Street, with her powerful earthy vocal already letting The Thames siders know what was in store. A memory from their Surya Showcase gig last December was Sibun's rockin' solo and Olinder's keys on 'Demolition Man' - again forcefully sung and written by Schorr in support of Amnesty International's resolution to decriminalise sex work. The opening groovy rhythm guitar of Innes on 'Cat And Mouse' belies its underlying message of past emotional abuse in the music industry, which saw both Sibun and Olinder excelling again. Schorr's recent performance at Carnegie Hall's Lead Belly Fest resulted in her tribute to the main man with a great cover of 'Where Did You Sleep Last Night' - appropriate to those of us who were wondering what the train's would be like after the gig. And you can take the man out of Zeppelin but you can't take Zeppelin out of the man - or to be precise, Sibun's time with Robert Plant - with their barnstorming cover of 'Rock And Roll' - Innes going for it hammer and tongs - Jimmy eat your heart out mate! The mellower 'Oklohoma' was introduced by Sari - although this correspondent's embarrassing "yes" was wrongfully construed by Sari that I actually had been there - the story being that a last minute change of plan ends up with her gigging with Joe Louis Walker ... hence 'Oklohoma'. Another groovy number - that as predicted built into one mean fusional outro jam with Anders' keys, another Sibun guitar solo (Oli Brown was on the album) plus Schorr's excellent lyrical diction. Superb.
'Letting Go', with its big finish, understandably lacked Vernon's big production - although Sibun's solo was vindication as to why Mike hand-picked Innes for the Engine Room backbone - their paths originally crossing when Vernon produced Sibun's 'Blues Explosion' album in the early '90's. Complemented by excellent vocals by Sari and keys from Anders - it was co-written by both Schorr and guitarist Quique Bonal's for Bonal's late wife Natalie. The stand-out on the album, however, harps back to Sari's love of 60's Psychedelic Rock. It also harped back to a conversation earlier in the bar with Innes and how this song was a favourite with a certain WRC member. Consequently Sari dedicated it to her! We're not worthy! Needless to say the melody and harmonics of 'Kiss Me' saw Sibun (again with Brown on the album) revelling in a riff/chorus/solo that rocks out big time - Schorr even managing to include a line about her beloved Pit Bulls - although the song is about being in love with someone who is gone. It was then back to Lead Belly and the classic 'Black Betty' - it's unique arrangement and in particular it's cajun guitar opening - lean heavily methinks again on the influence of Sibun's time with Robert Plant in 1993. Innes' guitar and Sari's undeniable enthusiasm and attitude delivering a classic from within a classic.
No let up on Schorr's vocal nor subject matter on 'Damn The Reason' - this time based on domestic violence - its contradiction being that it's beautifully crafted with Olinder's keyboards and another trademark Sibun guitar solo. The clunky opening riff of 'Aunt Hazel' - based on urban slang for heroin (Schorr doesn't pull her punches when songwriting) - resulted in both Sari and Innes letting us have it both barrels with this rocker. The irony of the evening was that if you were to have walked into the gig for the final number '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 versality, with her roots originally in Jazz - and perhaps sometimes overpowering vocals (she was once compared to a hybrid between Tina Turner and Janis Joplin) - she's had to learn to hold back to get the guts of the Blues. Anders Olinders' beautiful keyboard intro took Sari into another dimension. There's certainly nothing ordinary about this ballad - the crystal clarity of Schorr's vocals all for everyone to see and hear. A beautiful end to an awesome set. A special mention literally for the 'Engine Room' of Jefferies and O'Rourke plus with Sari, Innes and Anders in such excellent form off the stage as well as on it - there was still time to chat and of course buy the CD. An awesome evening - just make sure you the buy the CD and catch them on tour!