THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Barb Jungr and John McDaniel Live at the Pheasantry
Performing Float Like a Butterfly – The Sting Collection
The Pheasantry, Kings Rd, London, February 15–17, 2018
By Jarlath O'Connell
The Pheasantry website
Barb Jungr's USP is that she's a great miner of songbooks. A lover or words and a consummate chansonnière she has created a stunning catalogue of shows and albums celebrating the songs of Brel, Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen et al. She's not Great American Songbook, she's New American Songbook.
Recently she hooked up with the Grammy and Emmy winning American pianist/singer/arranger John McDaniel on a widely acclaimed show of Beatles songs and they follow that up with this homage to Sting. Jungr and McDaniel's voices blend so perfectly, it's great they met, and this is eloquently displayed on numbers like 'Wrapped around Your Finger'. McDaniel is not only a superlative accompanist to her on the piano he also delivers a number of perfectly crafted solo songs
Sting is a 'Marmite' star who attracts veneration and ire in equal measure but this will remind those who need it, just what a great songsmith he is, and the stripped down arrangements here draw out his cool romanticism. The lush waltz 'Until' (from the movie Kate and Leopold) could have been from the pen of a Hollywood Great. But Sting is a proper rock star and what separates his type of songs from the Great American Songbook era is how difficult it is to cleave the artist from the song. The sensual allure of Sting performing, say, 'Every Breath You Take', is as much about him just breathing than any deft use of poetic lyrics. With Sting the artist is more than half the deal, with Dylan you can run away and play with those dense lyrics. This means Jungr and McDaniel, musically, have a bigger mountain to climb with this material.
Typically fearless she throws herself in the deep end of a song and whether it's in the angst of 'King of Pain' or a jaundiced witty take on 'Every Little Thing (He) Does is Magic' she makes them her own. That song, as she points out, would now of course be deemed “inappropriate”.
A Barb Jungr concert isn't just the songs, there is nobody better able to tell a story. She deftly uses personal anecdotes not for vanity but to draw us in to the material, whether it's her tale of growing up quickly as a youthfully naïve cloakroom attendant in a gentlemen's club in St James's ('Roxanne') or a transcendent encounter with nature in the Isle of Skye used to illustrate 'Fragile'. Barb's singular achievement is that she understands a fundamental point about cabaret – which is that it is about intimacy. You need to be you and you need to be able to look people in the eye. She's masterful at this and others could look and learn.
This is a great partnership and further live dates for this and Barb's other concerts are here barbjungr.com