Barb Jungr - Man in the Long Black Coat - The American

Barb Jungr is widely regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of what she calls 'the new American Songbook' and central to that is the back catalogue of Bob Dylan.  Known as a cabaret artiste (which means you never know what section to find her CDs in!) she has produced a series of stunning albums exploring music as diverse as Brel and French Chanson, Gospel. Nina Simone and even Elvis.  Of late she has made a major splash too in New York with regular appearances at iconic venues such as Cafe Carlyle and Joe's Pub.

Her first Dylan album Every Grain of Sand, in 2002, unlocked for me the poetry of Dylan and then led me back to the source.  She has now released a second album of his work, The Man in the Long Black Coat, which celebrates the 70th birthday of the great man.  She launched the album at a a recent South Bank Centre concert, which also served as the opener for an extensive UK tour.

Famous for her wry and wonderfully idiosyncratic introductions to her songs, her concerts are mini musical mastercalsses in themselves.  That day, with Obama in town, she dedicated The Times They are a Changin' to the guys in the helicopters hovering above her London flat and wittily mused that The Man in the Long Black Coat must just be about that and not at all about DEATH,

Joking aside, she hails Dylan as the greatest songwriter of our time and her interpretations certainly help make the case.  What Jungr brings to the songs is a forensic skill at unpacking the poetry married to great musicianship.  When combined with deceptively simple arrangements (mostly by Adrian York or Jenny Carr) and, at this concert, expert acconpanmient by Jenny Carr on piano, she draws out the brilliance of these songs.  I Want You couldn't be a more perfect distillation of passion and It Ain't Me Babe a sharper annihilation of it.

The selection also of course covers the more overtly political songs moving from Trouble in Mind, to Like a Rolling Stone (a gloriously limpid piano setting by Carr) to a shattering finale of With God on our Side.  A more perfect riposte to hucksters pushing faith-based politics couldn't be imagined.

Not at the concert but on the album is a funky calypso-inspired arrangement of Just Like a Woman.  Only Barb could transform this 'babe' song into a celebration of girl power.  Go Barb.

The American
14 July 2011