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Barb Jungr - Love Me Tender - All Music Guide


30 April 2005
All Music Guide
Stanton Swihart

Another exquisite, at times astonishing, album from Miss Jungr. Unlike Bob Dylan, whose songbook the singer had so expressively reimagined on Every Grain of Sand, Elvis Presley was never himself a composer, depending instead entirely on professional publishers for his material, much of it originally chosen for its commercial prospects; however, even at its worst -- the soundtracks to the crap cookie-cutter movies the King made in the '60s usually come to mind here -- his recorded output had a certain consistency to it. On reflection that is primarily because, even at their qualitative best, his songs were as much about the sensual, muscular, bel canto performances and tied to the superstar singer's outsize, magnetic personality as they were about the merits of the tunes themselves. In other words, you are listening to Elvis sing those songs more than you are listening to the songs he is singing. In a way, that makes Jungr's Love Me Tender all the more remarkable: you do not hear the King at all here except in faint echoes and traces, like barely remembered fairy tales you were told as a child as you were drifting off to sleep. This isn't an exercise in dress-up, as it very easily might have been. Instead you are treated to a phenomenally responsive singer finding her way into and breathing the oxygen of forgotten stories, while, in the process, refitting them to say something real and useful, something personal about your world and about the one long past. In a sense, you are hearing these songs -- many of them now considered classics (pop/rock standards, if such things exist) -- for the first time. Worlds of passion and pain, discovery and dislocation exist in these songs. They are so entirely reinvented by Jungr, her brilliant arrangers Adrian York and Jonathan Cooper, and producer Calum Malcolm that the prevailing mood of the album is transformed into a mosaic, a complex map of one woman's fully lived life, from the dizzy, tender love letters of expectation to the lonesome heartbreak hotels that litter the highways of life, and all the attendant reveries, roadblocks, and realizations along the way, until she arrives at the gospel of her -- your -- existence, an exultant take on one of Presley's own favorite Baptist hymns, Thomas A. Dorsey's "Peace in the Valley." Jungr may have been "Looking for Elvis," as she sings in the album's sole self-written original, but she found herself. And in that discovery, there is a certain gesture of sublime benevolence toward the listener. Love Me Tender is an autobiography of shared memory, but more than that it is a primer to how people refashion that memory to ascertain and navigate their own trajectories. ****1/2

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