Man In The Long Black Coat is a collection of Bob Dylan songs uniquely interpreted by vocalist Barb Jungr, to mark the songwriter’s 70th birthday (which is next Tuesday).
Barb Jungr’s love affair with the songs of Bob Dylan began a decade ago as she says herself: “Once I started singing Dylan’s songs I couldn’t stop.” In fact, only four of the tracks here are newly recorded, the rest having appeared on previous albums
The album opens with the title track, stripped down to its bare minimum – an exquisite delivery of lyrics accompanied by the haunting toll of bells and beautifully arranged piano lines, which add occasional sparks life to this solemn chant. One could imagine Jungr on stage for the opening of the Threepenny Opera, or Sweeney Todd, or something equally dark, such is the evocatively delivered lyric and melody. One feels they’re in for a treat as this album is sure to deal with Dylan’s anthems expertly.
Jungr has taken some risks with interpretations and arrangements. Just Like A Woman has been transformed from its delicate, lilting acoustic folk to an altogether more quirky and bold reggae-influenced style. It is an interesting interpretation as it gives a carefree and jovial side to the emotionally charged lyrics, but somehow it works. Conversely, the beautifully understated delivery of Like A Rolling Stone, with its haunting accompaniment and Celtic flavours does the opposite in toning down the passion and drive showcased in a Dylan delivery. The poignancy of this tune makes it the stand-out track for me.
I also love the gospel-y Wade-in-the-Water-style Trouble In Mind. Refreshingly, Jungr hasn’t chosen the token Dylan hits such as Blowing in the Wind and Mr Tambourine Man – rather she has delved deep into the catalogue of songs and picked ones which really work for her.
Jungr has that rare ability of delivering each song with a different edge to her voice – making for a delicious mixture of tones and colours, from the ethereal, jaunty Times They Are A-Changing to the soulful and passionate It Aint Me Babe, a more lyrical and expressive offering than Dylan’s orginal.
Jungr demonstrates a solid vocal range throughout, singing Tomorrow Is A Long Time an octave lower than many other singers would, and indeed than any other song herein. It’s wonderful!
The instrumentation is incredibly imaginative and serves to support Jungr’s interpretations with a range of timbres: the haunting toll of bells; organ; mbira (thumb piano); and electronic effects such as the autoharp and mellotron (although I could have been convinced someone was playing jam jars filled with odd amounts of water). It all adds to a theatrical yet tasteful collection of songs, one that is a fitting tribute to the music of Bob Dylan.
Barb Jungr will be performing songs from the album with Jenny Carr (piano) at the Purcell Room on the South Bank on May 25th.