Barb Jungr - Live at The Metropolitan Room - Curtain Up

19 September 2008
Curtain Up
Paulanne Simmons

Barb Jungr, whose reputation in the US may soon be as formidable as it is in the UK, wowed the audience at Metropolitan Room with her new show, I Got Life. The performance was spiced with songs from Nina Simone's repertoire, many of which are also featured on Jungr's latest CD, Just like a Woman (hymn to Nina).

Simone, who died in 2003, is often called a jazz singer, but like Jungr, her taste in music was certainly eclectic. And like Jungr, she had a highly personal style. Jungr not only admires Simone's choices but says, "Those choices led me to a different set of choices." It should therefore be no surprise, and it's entirely fitting, that Jungr takes songs like "Suzanne" and "Feeling Good" and makes them entirely her own.

Jungr rounds out her repertoire with songs by Jacques Brel and Bob Dylan, which fit so seamlessly into the show that it was sometimes hard to figure out whether or not Simone had sung them too. And Charlie Giordano on piano and accordion made the vital contribution that perfected the evening. Jungr's voice, which can go from deep and rich to pure and clear in a matter of seconds, warns her audience from the very beginning that she will be digging into the "detritus" of human relationships, but somehow most people will surely leave Metropolitan Room feeling elated and elevated. Hearing Jungr render lines like "I see no need to take me home/I'm old enough to face the dawn" can truly be a cathartic experience.

But the remarkable Jungr voice, which easily blends jazz, folk-rock and blues, is only part of the story. The smoldering chanteuse also has a magnetic personality and a sense of humor that refuses to let her or her audience take themselves too seriously. She introduces many songs with personal reflections on the ambiguity of the songs, the idiosyncrasies of the singers who made them famous, as well as ironic reflections on her own bleak northern England origins in a town voted the eighth worst in the entire country. Her appeal comes in no small part from her ability to touch people, whether she's performing in the UK, the US or Australia. As she puts it: " I'm not just about my own culture she explains."I'm about experience, love, sadness and things that are universal."

I Got Life marks Jungr's fourth appearance at Metropolitan Room. She summed up her affinity for the venue in a telephone interview: "I love Metropolitan Room. It's got a great sound system, a wonderful staff, great lights, a wonderful piano."

Chris Mazzilli, co-owner of Metropolitan Room with his brother Steven, is equally enthusiastic about Jungr. He happily notes that the singer received glowing reviews in both The New York Times and New York Magazine when she was last seen at the cabaret.

For Mazzilli, who takes a special interest in introducing newcomers (Metropolitan Room's August MetroStar Talent Challenge aimed to boost the careers of rising talent) as well as showcasing established names (Marilyn Maye, who appeared on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show more than any other singer, has headlined at Metropolitan Room several times), Jungr's success is particularly gratifying. "The through line is talent," says Mazzilli, who opened Metropolitan Room in May 2006 in the space vacated by his Gotham Comedy Club when it moved to West 23rd Street.

Lennie Watts, who books the acts for Metropolitan Room, introduced Mazzilli to Jungr and her music. He remembers that when he first heard her he thought she was "fantastic." Even though Jungr was relatively unknown in the United States, Watts vowed to keep booking her "until everybody else realizes how good she is." It seems Watts is well on the way to achieving his goal.
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