Great lyrics and a voice that simmers combine to create a masterclass in singing the blues.
In January 2015, producer Mike Vernon, whose credits include Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, and David Bowie, to name but a few, was receiving a Keeping The Blues Alive award at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. It was here that he witnessed the performance of Sari Schorr - a performance that was so breathtaking he came out of semi-retirement to produce her new album, A Force of Nature.
The album’s title is quite appropriate as the sheer power Schorr has in her voice is quite staggering but what’s more impressive is her ability to control it. The album’s first track Ain’t Got No Money, begins quietly but over the five minute running length, it subtly builds, led by Schorr’s vocals which slowly release the power she has in them over the course of the track. Quite often throughout the album, her voice simmers like a pot that’s about to boil over, but the joy is in trying to work out if she is about to let it or not.
The upbeat blues licks of Aunt Hazel contrast with darker lyrics about heroin use (Just one hit to clear my mind/I’ll pay the rent another time) and it’s at the end of this song that Schorr really lets rip. Lyrically, the album is strong - quite often blues albums simply portray lost lovers and feeling, well, blue, but most of the songs on the album are written by Schorr herself and she’s proven herself to be a quality writer with lyrics that tie in well with the music. The themes are varied and include domestic violence on Damn The Reason to her struggles with working with a bad producer on Cat and Mouse. Schorr has said that she “sets out to write achingly honest songs about the beauty and tragedy of the human experience”, and she does this very well indeed. There are several great musicians who’ve contributed to the album including guitarists Walter Trout (John Mayall, Canned Heat), Innes Sibun (Robert Plant), Oli Brown (RavenEye) and keyboardist John Baggott (Massive Attack, Portishead). It’s a testament to the producer and the overall experience of the veteran musicians that keeps the music just refrained enough to let Schorr’s vocals be the highlight of the album while really kicking in when they need to. There’s an interesting version of Lead Belly’s Black Betty which showcases the talents of each without one dominating the other. Just when you think you’ve heard it all on the album, there’s a beautiful closing track, Ordinary Life, which shows a gentle side to Schorr’s voice and ends the album nicely with what’s essentially a ‘thank you’, from her and a show of appreciation for both life and those listening. It also gives her a chance to get her breath back after what’s nearly an hour of an energetic masterclass in singing the blues.