(Pizza Express Jazz Club, Dean Street. 29th March 2017. Review by Jane Mann)
Linn Records have just released a 15th Anniversary edition of Barb Jungr’s 2002 album Every Grain of Sand: Barb Jungr sings Bob Dylan, including a version on vinyl. Since its original release Jungr has continued to study and to perform Dylan songs, and her back catalogue of his work is extensive: Shelter From The Storm – Songs Of Hope For Troubled Times (2016); Hard Rain – The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen (2014); and Man In The Long Black Coat (2011). It is worth mentioning, and, as she announced, every record that Barb Jungr has ever released is still available.
To celebrate the elevation of Every Grain Of Sand to “cult classic”, Jungr is currently touring her Dylan material. She played most of the tunes from this album, plus a handful of others. She was skilfully supported by her regular accompanists Jenny Carr on piano and Dudley Phillips on double bass.
She opened the show with an energetic Things Have Changed, packed with a rapid succession of arresting visual images (..There’s a women on my lap, and she’s drinking champagne…) and we were off. Jungr’s enunciation is perfect – you get every word, which is very handy when it comes to the more recent Dylan material with which I’m less familiar. Clearly with Dylan, recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the lyrics are important. She has a good time with the line “Gonna get low down, gonna fly high”, dropping right down the scale for the “low” and swooping up to the “high” – there is a Nina Simone feel to this. Jungr covered some of Nina Simone’s work, including her takes on Dylan songs, on Just like a woman – a hymn to Nina (2007) so there is an affinity there.
She moved on with Ring Them Bells, with sweet harmonising backing vocals from Jenny Carr at the piano, and melodious bass playing from Dudley Phillips, and somehow the three of them managed to conjure up a whole gospel choir backed by the ringing of bells. What a voice Barb Jungr has! It is gospel rich, with a vast vocal range, and her technique is flawless. She is a compelling performer, but refreshingly un-diva-like in her interaction with the band and the audience. Her introductions to the numbers were engaging and informative, a couple of personal anecdotes here and some references to the gloomy state of affairs today there.
She spoke of Dylan’s happy love songs and bitter love songs, the former usually presented as “idylls, but with a time limit” before plunging into a touching If Not For You. When Jungr produced a harmonica and gave us a blistering solo in the middle of Born In Time, my companion, a major Dylan fan (or “Bobcat”, as they style themselves), remarked that Barb Jungr was the better harmonica player. There were lots more songs, in a dazzling variety of styles – a slow yearning waltz, a country ballad, a torch song, a tango, the mood changing from driving urgency to joyfulness and to despair. By the time we got to Shelter From The Storm, each of the many verses arranged to have its own distinct musical character, I was very impressed. Every element of the show – the arrangements, the playing, the singing, requires and demonstrates the sophistication and sensitivity of this trio.
The last song Hard Rain, was most recently sung by Patti Smith in Stockholm, when she accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature in Dylan’s absence. Jungr gave us her powerful version, and did not stumble once. As an encore, she invited us to join her in the chorus of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, which we did, a great reviver after the mental anguish of Hard Rain. As the last song ended the audience cheered and gave the trio a richly deserved standing ovation.
Barb Jungr and her band are on tour, and are back in London at The Other Palace on 25th May 2017.