Barb Jungr - Just Like a Woman (hymn to Nina) - Atlantic Audio Society

Just like a Woman was my first acquaintance with British vocalist Barb Jungr. Subtitled "Hymn to Nina," it's a tribute to the American blues singer Nina Simone, whom Jungr praises for "her uncompromising approach to material, fearlessness in changing lyric and arrangement to make songs personal, and [her] courageous musicianship." Despite this fact, Jungr does not try, for the most part, to imitate Simone's maverick delivery, taking just what she needs.

 

Nor, despite the plenitude of Bob Dylan lyrics in this collection, does she make any attempt to replicate Dylan's idiosyncratic vocal style (for which we may be grateful). Rather, she takes some of Nina's phrasing and adds it to her own vocal profile, which favors long lines and a penchant for sliding across end rhymes right in to the next line. It is a very attractive approach that always brings out the expressive beauty of a song. In the process, like every great jazz vocalist, she makes the often-copied songs her very own.

"Black is the color of my true love's hair" segues beautifully into "Gonna break down and let it all out."  "Lilac Wine" has an eerie supernatural quality, as if set in a graveyard. "The times they are a-changin'" has more influence of Nina than Dylan in its reggae inflections. It has lost none of its timeliness over the years. The simple, quiet beauty of Jungr's artistry bring up "Angel of the morning," a song much abused by many bad copies (especially in the C&W racket) as fresh as paint. Ditto "Don't let me be misunderstood."

"Keeper of the flame" is the epitome of the torch song, timeless in its low key, smoldering passion. "One morning in May" fits together nicely with [God damn]"The Pusher" as the anquished cry of a condemned quail. In Jungr's interpretation, the latter becomes so much more than just a drug song. "To love somebody" borrows Nina-like inflections to make something more of the Gibb Brothers' song than they themselves were capable. Jungr's pacing and dramatic build-up of the climax of "Hollis Brown" make Dylan's chilling ballad about a despondent Dakota farmer who takes his own life and those of all his family a timeless tragedy. (The long slow fade-out at the end adds immensely to the effect.) Finally, "Feelin' Good" recalls Nina Simone vividly with an over-the-top exuberance that is hard to dislike.

Much of the success of this album derives from sympathetic arrangements that fit Jungr's mature vocal style to perfection. Credit also Danny Thompson's superbly fluid work on bass and Mark Lockheart's spots on soprano and tenor sax. Jenny Carr provides right-on direction and an understated piano. Add Danny Lee on drums and Jessica Lauren on organ, harmonia and an assortment of other instruments plus backing vocals, and the support is a singer's dream.

26 May 2008