Barb Jungr - Live in Brunswick - The Melbourne Age

30 September 2007
The Melbourne Age
Jessica Nichols

Barb Jungr is a celebrated vocalist in her native England, but is relatively unknown in Australia.  That should change after her first national tour here, where the singer has been enthralling audiences with her mesmerising live shows (one magnanimous patron in Adelaide gave her a $1,000 tip after her concert there a few weeks ago).

Friday's performance at Don't Tell Tom attracted a relatively small crowd, though Jungr has a voice and presence that could - and should - fill a concert hall.  Still, she made the most of the venue's intimate atmosphere as she peeled the well-worn husks from familiar songs in the pop, folk and cabaret repertoire, exposing the vulnerability and unexpected subtexts within the lyrics.

She opened with a gently uplifting original, Beautiful Life, before explaining that she has made a career of "singing depressing songs very slowly" (she also does a charming line in self-deprecating humour).  Among her most radical interpretations on Friday was Heartbreak Hotel, stripped of Elvis Presley's swagger and intoned with the bare-boned simplicity of a Native American chant. 

Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas was given a fresh translation (Don't Leave Me Now) as Jungr evoking the quiet passion that masks heartbreaking despair.  Here, too, the arrangement was exquisitely minimal, keyboardist Matthew Carey dropping melancholy pinpricks between each trembling vocal phrase.    

Jungr is especially well-known for her interpretations of Dylan songs, and we heard several of these on Friday - from the beautifully tender I'll Be Your Baby Tonight to the earthy, gospel-tinged Ring Them Bells.  Jungr's wonderfully malleable voice had an almost operatic vibrato on If Not For You, while her imaginative phrasing on Don't Think Twice reflected her jazz leanings.

After a heartwrenching bracket of Brel songs, Jungr brought our emotional compass full circle with a radiant encore (Ray Davies' Waterloo Sunset), infusing each line with glowing warmth and optimism.

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