THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
As live performance slowly emerges from its chrysalis, Barb Jungr returned to Crazy Coqs with a cabaret show to launch Forgetful Heart, a new collection of covers of the music of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
She’s become, in her own way, a prime interpreter of Dylan and her exquisite 2002 album Every Grain of Sand was an object lesson is how a singer can take on these forbidding songs and make them their own while still fully honouring the source. Dylan and Cohen’s songs have been the backbone of her live repertoire ever since and in 2014 she followed up with another great album featuring both called Hard Rain.
Cabaret, that most intimate of singing arts, is basically ‘let me tell you a story’. It’s not enough to be able to sing, you also need to be able to talk. You must find a connection and Jungr is a master at this, combining a tart wit with a unique insight into the songs, even when, as here, the material is quite dark.
Her take is both learned and idiosyncratically personal. As she says at the outset after Dylan’s ‘Love is just a four-letter word,’ “this is the brightest it’s going to get”.
She’s accompanied on the piano by her long-term collaborator, Jenny Carr, who is also responsible for the delicate, sinuous, arrangements. The two are now a perfect musical pairing such that you’re not sure where one ends and the other begins.
She talks about how Dylan and Cohen have raked over the philosophical and emotional possibilities of the meaning of Love and as she quips “None of it is good”.
Cohen’s ‘So Long Marianne’ does allow a chink of sunlight through as she recalls its power when first encountering it back in her teens. Dylan’s ‘Isis’ is just absolutely mad, she admits, but again she mines every word of it for texture and meaning. The title track ‘Forgetful Heart’ is given a Blues inflection and she enhances it further with some mean harmonica playing.
A highlight is Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. Beautiful and tender one minute and the next fuelled by her commanding vocals. It shows that her voice has darkened during the time off, which just adds to its richness.
‘I’ve made up my mind to give myself to you’ is introduced with a jaunty tale about riding round Malibu with a friend trying to locate what might be Dylan’s house and she then disarms us by delivering the song with a heart aching simplicity.
Cohen’s fabulous ‘Dance me to the end of love’ is given a rousing uptempo take which draws on its musical origins as a Greek folk dance and she ends with Cohen’s much covered ‘Hey, that’s no way to say goodbye”. This takes her back to her native Stockport in 1971 as she and a mate prepare for a night out at a poetry reading at the Mersey Tavern. Both were in “a Haight-Ashbury phase”, with long everything and bell-bottom trousers. It was the setting for her first teen romance, and she turns the song into a tender take on the fleeting nature of young love.