Barb Jungr – Every Grain of Sand – Variety

In her long overdue Gotham debut, Brit chanteuse Barb Jungr skirts the usual cabaret diet of Cole Porter, Stephen Sondheim and the accustomed rush of Broadway composers, turning instead to the songbook of rock's poet laureate, Bob Dylan.

Imagine, if you will, a glam diva in a burgundy off-the-shoulder gown and matching pumps, singing bleak and dark road songs from the Woodstock years. And there were no signs of bandanas, jeans or bare feet among the members of a small, but respectfully attentive audience. Jungr not only brings a refreshing sophistication to the material, but new insight. Jungr provides a good deal more than mere cover versions of the songs. The singer strips the songs of their folksy flavor but retains the melancholy landscape.

After listening to over 40 Dylan albums, she selected some dozen songs of desperation, love and sadness. She sets "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, " in a new rhythmic frame that still maintains a sense of yearning. "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," a song designed to celebrate a one-night stand, is stripped of its country twang; she calls it a steamy, front porch song at sunset. "Is Your Love in Vain" has become a piercingly acute and sultry torch song. "Forever Young," a song often trivialized in the Dylan canon, serves as a blessing and a comforting benediction, which Jung invests with an emotional strength.

Jungr sings with a pleasant mid-range voice that easily explores some big top notes. She builds a comfortable relationship with her listeners. Credit Jungr with building a proscenium arch around Dylan's poetic legacy. One immediately thinks of Kurt Weill's songs for the theater. Dylan's songs set a scene and tell a story, and they boast a persuasive theatricality. Charlie Giordano provides bold and flavorful piano accompaniment, but the singer's new Linn CD, "Every Grain of Sand," benefits from the assist of additional strings and a furry tenor sax.

In her nicely balanced program, the U.K. import adds a touch of home turf and Paree to the program. Giordano also doubles on accordion, and it's an atmospherically suited assist for Jungr's Continental repertoire. Jacques Brel's "La chanson des vieux amants," which Jungr sings in English as "Songs for Old Lovers," tells of a long-lasting love. Jungr also offers a portrait of Edith Piaf and her ill-fated romance with boxer Marcel Cerdan. The little sparrow's classic hymn of resignation, "No Regrets," carries a fervent emotional tug in Jungr's reading.

Encore was "Waterloo Sunset," a reflective Thames picture postcard of a song by Ray Davis, which just may prompt its listeners to book the next flight to London. The next time around, I would hope Jungr is not buried in an expansive Tribeca open space but perhaps lodged in a smart uptown room. Jungr and the songs deserve better and would clearly benefit from a plush setting. Wider Stateside recognition is in order.

12 April 2004