Barb Jungr - Live from Cafe Carlyle -

19 May 2009
John Hoglund

On the heels of great press from her last run at Metropolitan Room, London's Barb Jungr took a questionable leap and jumped uptown to the hallowed murals of the tony Cafe Carlyle and debuted her riskiest show to date, "The Men I Love." It paid off.

Jungr took a major departure from the usual diva turns there and lived up to the hype she received last year in spades from her wildly successful run at Metropolitan Room. She has always dared to take chances in song choices. She didn't disappoint her legions of fans. Well known for unique interpretations of unlikely song choices as well as paying homage to the songs of Bob Dylan and Nina Simone, Jungr painted with a wider brush. She offered an emotionally-charged program that included tunes by an eclectic mix of songwriters some rarely, if ever, heard in a funky downtown club much less a pricey uptown room known for more staid, traditionalist cabaret artists like Barbara Cook, Mary Cleere Hanan, Eartha Kitt and Bobby Short. What other major room performer would bring the likes of songs by Neil Diamond, Leonard Cohen, Todd Rundgren, Talking Heads, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen and Dylan to this table? No theme. No American songbook. Just songs she likes - all written by men from the folk/pop/rock genre. And, not only did she find interesting ways to reinvent the meanings of these songs, she exfoliated the subtext within those tunes. The results were her best U.S. club outing to date. Seemingly, her next stop is a solo turn at Carnegie Hall.

Jungr captivated her audience. She has a raspy mezzo that occasionally recalls a younger Joan Baez with a strong, expressive sound complemented by a richly controlled vibrato that she used with ease. At times she used a husky tone that was spellbinding. Without ever losing its humor, she found a new way to act and segue the subtext of "This Old Heart Of Mine," the old Motown mainstay by Holland-Dozier-Moy, in medley with "Love Hurts" (Bryant.) And she managed to twist the heart with Todd Rundgren's "I Saw the Light." She resurrected the forgotten gem, "My Little Town" from Simon & Garfunkel's 1975 respective solo albums into a heartfelt call to remembrance from her childhood. She often treated songs like architecture as she meticulously built them by the assorted folk-pop-rock composers brick by brick until the mortar dried and a total mood was created. And she did it effortlessly creating definitive moods along the way. She was seductive as well as slap-happy on several tunes to interesting effect like a gospel-esque "Walking In the Sun" (Jeff Barry) which emerged from Percy Sledge's catalog.

She peaked with a unique arrangement of "Can't Get Used To Losing You" by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman fused with Neil Diamond's yearning "Red Red Wine." A major surprise was her deconstruction and total reinvention of Bruce Springsteen's "The River" which became a trenchant ballad filled with pungent nuances and heretofore untapped emotions.

She divided the emotionality of her program into three parts; innocence, wounded love and redemption and the results were solid, albeit new-style cabaret in a lofty room. It was refreshing to see substance over style and predictability (well researched patter has become the uncomfortable by which some writers judge shows) over a woman recalling absorbing anecdotes about her own life and the material without boring. Such honesty is long overdue. And neophytes can pay directors, symposiums and listen to charlatans preach their limited version of what is right and wrong to do to create a successful cabaret act that will fly. But Barb Jungr has all it takes. And, she does it without gimmicks. You can't buy such raw honesty or talent.

Her set was enhanced to a new level by importing her longtime musical partner from the UK, Simon Wallace whose musical arrangements and sensitivity are non pare ill and worthy of attention when awards in this community are thrown around.

To top it all off, she closed with Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life." The title alone describes this unique artist who is a must see at any venue. It doesn't get much better.

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