(4 / 5)
Legendary record producer Mike Vernon was very excited. As we watched a band on stage and then later chatted backstage at the annual Great British Rhythm and Blues festival in Colne, Lancashire just over three years ago.
He really wanted to tell me all about his latest discovery. New York-based singer and songwriter Sari Schorr, who he caught at a festival and was blown away by her voice – tipping her for stardom; helping land her a record deal.
This is a man who produced Bowie, Clapton and Peter Green in their early years, and many legends since. So, when he says, “Simon, you really need to hear this artist, she is something special”, I take notice.
Wind forward around a year since that conversation with Mike, and I was sent the results of his belief in his new discovery: An album called “Force Of Nature” which Mike produced. It came out here in the UK in September 2016.
I reviewed it back then with a fairly positive critique, but I did not follow sheep-like, the majority of UK blues writers who called her “the new Janis Joplin” and hailed Sari almost as the Messiah of female blues and rock singers. Some even writing that she was the best female singer they’d ever heard!
She was good, for sure. Very good. The album itself was good, indeed. But for me back then, the hype didn’t quite match what we got on that record. And for my ears, the vocals sounded a tad forced at times and not as natural as I assumed she’d be on stage.
Maybe it lacked an emotional attachment on some of the songs, and maybe there was not enough light and shade between the raunchy, belt-‘em-out rockers and the more laid back stuff.
So, now the sophomore record is in my hands, is it more of the same? Am I impressed or disappointed? Well….The difference here compared to album # 1 is palpable. The songs are King, and Sari really draws you in with the emotional commitment.
Like all great vocalists, she serves the song rather than the other way round. She allows the songs to breathe and she is versatile in her delivery. A lot more space, a lot more control this time round in my opinion. But the songs are a tighter fit for sure.
Last time, a lot of that record was 100 mph in 5th gear and right in your face. Like she really had something to prove. On this one, she paces herself, and when she needs to rock out and be a rock chick, she does. And some. But when she is softer, she is as soulful as you can get. I love that side of her. It sounds far more natural than much of the last record.
One of two covers here, the title track, closes proceedings and was penned by Ian McLagen of the Small Faces and The Faces, who wrote it after the death of his wife. A tough song to tackle, when you know how personal it is to the writer. How did this gal do? Later…
First, we go to track one, “King Of Rock and Roll” and the second cut, “Thank You”. Two of the strongest tracks of the set – starting off with a bang. She shows power, attitude and energy on both tracks.
The opener is ‘70s powerhouse arena rock, and not too far from Ann Wilson’s quality on the vocal. Ash Wilson (no relation!) on guitar is a big asset. Innes Sibun was axe man on the first CD and in her touring band, but Ash took over a while ago. Both are really, really good players. Across this record, Ash has a gorgeous fluid soulful side to his work.
The second track is like the first, solid as granite. Bob Fridzema’s Hammond organ and Roy Martin’s drums laying the concrete foundation for the rest to sit on. Both of these cuts penned by Sari and her producer Henning Gehrke, who co-wrote seven of the 11 songs in this collection. I could have done with the guitar up in the mix and more ‘oomph’ on the drum sound on tracks one and two, though.
Change of pace with the ballad “Ready For Love” written by Mott The Hoople and Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs. A nice tapestry woven by the guitar, bass (Mat Beable) and Bob’s piano licks; which gives light and shade against the two previous rockers. Maybe a Led’ Zep’ influence here. Nice job.
Back to the foot stomping, head shaking rockers with “Valentina”, before a track that has a bit of a Faces/ Stones feel to it. “The New Revolution”, which Sari wrote with keyboard man Mr Fridzema.
All but three of the 11 tracks on this album were recorded at Dave Williams’ studio The Grange in Norfolk. First of the three that weren’t is “Beautiful”, recorded at Superfly in Nottinghamshire. Those three cuts had a different band on them.
Neal Wilkinson on drums, Ash Wilson and Steve Wright on guitars, Mat Beable on bass and Bennet Holland on Hammond organ. The band on the rest of this record is Ash, Mat, Bob and Roy Martin on drums.
Sari steps up the vibrato on the vocal on “Beautiful” and Ash turns in some sweet licks on guitar. Not sure of the song’s arrangement though. Most commercial track of the 11 is “Turn The Radio On”, which has Bob Seger / Pat Benatar / Bonnie Tyler flavours, and is very radio-ready.
This spotlights the softer side of Sari’s vocal and offers some nice piano work. But it’s crying out for a screaming, stadium guitar solo, which never came. But we get a tease of that on the next one, “Maybe I’m Fooling”.
A distinct Springsteen vibe on “Back To LA”, a decent song where Sari delivers a passionate vocal. But the second track recorded at Superfly, “Freedom”, penned by Sari and guitarist Steve Wright, didn’t do it for me.
The closer and title track did. “Never Say Never”. As I said earlier in this review, it’s written by Ian McLagen after his wife died. There’s vulnerability in the vocal, and Sari really connects emotionally with the subject matter. Perhaps channelling her inner feelings and memories about losses of her own.
A real soulfulness too, throughout this track. Some fine guitar licks from Ash Wilson. It is a gorgeous job by Sari and the team, and the perfect way to close what is an undeniable shoo-in for many “Best Of 2018” lists to be published at the end of the year by the music media.
There are many, many, many OTT reviews of this artist for her debut album two years ago, and her live shows. So not only would that put Sari under enormous pressure to follow up on her debut, but it also sets her up for a fall if what she puts out with her name on it, somehow doesn’t live up to the hype.
This record most certainly does. It needs no hype or verbosity. A classy job. The difference is the material, the emotional connection from singer to song, the musicians and the chemistry between them and their boss, Sari, and of course, Ms Schorr’s performance.
It’s a given she is a real singer. But there seems to be a deliberate attempt at getting away from the Janis Joplin, raunchy ‘rock chick’ thing, making it more about the versatility of her vocal instrument; and digging deep to expose the bare soul of this impressive woman.
That’s the direction she needs to take for album # 3 and beyond. Yes, there are a couple of tracks here that didn’t quite hit the target with me, and some of the mixes perhaps needed a wee tweak.
But overall, this is a sparkling, and uber-successful second album; from one of the best prospects to break through for “big-voice,” female rock and blues vocalists, since the likes of Dana Fuchs and Beth Hart. A Schorr-fire winner.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’