Review: Barb Jungr/ The Men I Love
(Vortex, January 16th, Review, and photo by John Eyles)
The Men I Love does exactly what it says on the tin – it is a programme of songs by the (male) songwriters Barb Jungr loves. Rather than Cole Porter, Rogers and Hart or the Gershwins, Jungr favours more modern composers: her New American Songbook draws from Dylan, Springsteen, Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, Jimmy Webb and Neil Diamond, and right up to Bread, Motown, Talking Heads, Iggy Pop and Jimmy James & the Vagabonds.
Jungr and her accompanist and arranger Simon Wallace weren’t just doing covers. Instead, the pair had rethought each song, the original versions often barely recognizable. For instance, David Byrne and Brian Eno’s Once in a Lifetime bears no trace of Talking Heads’ funk workout. As Jungr confided, “I’m not against drums per se. I just don’t want them for me.” Instead, her version is sparse, dramatic and almost confessional, hinging on the line “my God, what have I done?” delivered with the right sense of revelation.
Throughout, Jungr radiated sheer joy as she sang these songs. She is an entertainer as well as a fine singer. She inhabiting each song and eloquently conveying its emotions. She soon established an easy-going rapport with the audience with personal anecdotes about each song. Thus, prior to singing her stripped-down version of Diamond’s I’m a Believer, she told of the time when she lived in Fulham and saw Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees shopping for fruit in the Wandsworth Bridge Road. And before singing Simon’s My Little Town, she posed the question, “How did Paul Simon know all about the town where I grew up – Rochdale?”
Although she included a variety of songs, Jungr was at her magnificent best when singing about love, especially the pain of love gone wrong. The titles of the set’s high spots tell their own tale: Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache, This Old Heart of Mine, Love Hurts, It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, Can’t Get Used to Losing You, Red Red Wine. Before Rundgren’s I Saw the Light, Jungr told the audience that during her successful run at New York’s Café Carlyle, the audience cried when she sang it, before dismissively adding, “but they’re Americans…” Nevertheless, although no obvious tears were shed at the Vortex, her poignant versions of some songs will have brought a lump to many a throat.
Jungr next returns to The Vortex for a neatly-timed Valentines’ Day performance. Meanwhile, she will continue touring The Men I Love, as the album of the same name approaches its release. Taking liberties in quoting Grahame Greene, Jungr says of the album that it is “one sliver of ice from the vast Antarctic of the New American Songbook.” I sensed that many from the Vortex audience will be near the head of the queue to obtain their copies when it comes out.
John Eyles bought his first jazz album – Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis – in 1968, and has never looked back. He has written about jazz and improvised music for a wide range of publications, and currently writes for AllAboutJazz, Dusted and BBCi. And LondonJazz