Barb Jungr – HARD RAIN (The songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen)
It’s fair to say Barb Jungr works in a niche. Specialising in an English version of the French art form of Chanson, unlike some of her fellow travellers (Robb Johnson, Leon Rosselson, Jake Thackery), she doesn’t cross over into folk. Nevertheless, she has plowed away, reinterpreting songs (as well as originals) for decades. I remember catching her Elvis show in Edinburgh in the nineties and being amazed at how well something so strongly tied to one voice could become a new vehicle for story.
Like Elvis, Dylan is much-covered and Cohen is picking up steam after Hallelujah’s comprehensive slaughtering by TV wannabees. This, however, works differently and is a collection of the two’s more politically grounded work, spun into new tangents. Barb has put out two previous Dylan collections and picked up plaudits for them. Arrangements lean heavily on the jazzy and feature an excellent band, including the wonderful Clive Bell (long-time Jah Wobble collaborator) on Japanese flute, featured on the brave opener – the iconic Blowing In The Wind. The set is big on piano and bass, especially the jazzy Lenny songs. Everybody Knows is taken much faster than the original and is hopping. Who By Fire, by contrast, is slow, rich and savoured.
Barb’s lighter voice changes the focus, as in Hard Rain, where Dylan’s song gets a new lyrical emphasis. Dylan himself is well known for reinventing his phrasing, to the point where classics like Tambourine Man acquire new tunes. Instead of the strange instrument that is Bob Dylan’s voice or the warm, dry languor of Leonard Cohen, Barb Jungr plays with inflection.
First We Take Manhattan becomes a sparse piano amble, while Masters Of War gains most from the new approach. Slow, clear and methodical, Dylan’s tirade of hatred is laid plain. It’s Alright Ma is as snappy as the original and patterned much the same in phrasing, just arranged much more sparsely. 1000 Kisses Deep wins from the deep jazz playing and Gotta Serve Somebody is transformed from the smooth Mark Knopfler-produced rock into a piano ballad where it loses some of its dippy humour but is revealed as a future cabaret classic. Land Of Plenty gets some welcome exposure and Chimes Of Freedom is, surprise, surprise, slowed to a ballad and we luxuriate in the lyric as well as the tune.
In a world where everyone from The Byrds to The Grateful Dead have covered Dylan and Cohen attracts telly talent show show-offs, Barb Jungr does us a favour with serious but cool re-imaginings of these classics. The jazz arrangements add a certain cool to the serious intent and the whole will reward your attention.