Barb Jungr - Love Me Tender - Live Review

The thing that sets Barb Jungr apart as a performer is her uncanny ability to conjure up a landscape in song. In her album The Space In Between we had an evocation of the Paris of Brel and Piaf and in this show Love Me Tender, which was premiered for three consecutive nights at New Greenham Arts last week, she took as her canvas the Deep South of Elvis Presley's youth.

The project is ambitious. There's a film-noir romanticism to the French capital of the 1950s but there's no poetry in the red-neck states. What's there to sing about in those parched, barren lands, best known for poverty and political reactionaries? The answer is, the memory of Elvis himself, whose lyrics, Barb writes in the programme, "tell a story of love, loss and faith."

She went on to prove as much. The show had a simple but effective set, designed by Nick Flintoff - just open windows with scraps of curtain portraying a steaming hot house where the singer herself took on the persona of a troubled woman looking back over her broken dreams. The opener, Love Letters Straight from Your Heart was a comparatively light introduction to the material, which worked well. There followed a journey into the most bleak musical landscape imaginable. Heartbreak Hotel was slowed down to a crawl without a hint of rock, Are you lonesome tonight? had a sense of desperation Elvis never dreamt of, following which Kentucky Rain conveyed an almost palpable sense of release.

Not all the songs worked for me, but that's nit picking compared to the highlights of the night. These include Love Me Tender on which Adrian York on piano underpinned the lyric with a clanking, insistent C sharp - sounding like a nodding derrick in the background desert. In The Ghetto was superb too - delivered as a soap box polemic and offering a spirit of anger to counter the despair.

All this may sound like music to slash your wrists to but it was no such thing. Barb lightened the mood with her trade-mark banter, slipping in and out of role easily, while remaining credible throughout. Forget Presley, this was more the musical equivalent of a collection of short stories by Steinbeck. It was a very special night at New Greenham Arts.

Live Review
30 July 2005