Barb Jungr - Man in the Long Black Coat Live in NY - Broadway World
When the British chanteuse Barb Jungr first performed her Bob Dylan show, Man in the Long Black Coat, at the Metropolitan Room last October, she took the New York cabaret world by storm for a second time (she had won a 2008 Nightlife Award as "Outstanding Cabaret Vocalist" for her show The Men I Love), garnering breathless praise from both the New York Times and the New York Post, and being nominated for a 2012 "Show of the Year" Award by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs (MAC). Now Barb is back with Black Coat for an extended Met Room run (until April 28), and you shouldn't think twice about catching Jungr's fascinating interpretation of 13 classics from the Dylan repertoire (songs that are from her two Dylan-centric CDs, Every Grain of Sand and Man in the Long Black Coat). Barb Jungr is much more than a Bob Dylan tribute artist. Her show celebrating one of the world's greatest troubadours is a righteous revelation.
Attitudes about Bob Dylan fall into three categories: millions love him, millions can't stand him and there is that vast middle-like independents in the political spectrum-who have always appreciated the messages in his lyrics, but have had little tolerance for the messenger's singing style. Even the cliché "like chalk scratching a blackboard" has been inadequate in characterizing Dylan's voice, something the writer Joyce Carol Oates once described "as if sandpaper could sing." I've long been one of those indifferent to Dylan because of that voice and never thought a singer could shine a new light on his words for me. But with rich vocals that range from a whisper to a belt, an ease with bringing a variety of emotions to the lyrics, and intricate, accessible, and surprising arrangements (many of which she writes herself and with partners), Jungr doesn't just interpret Dylan songs, she re-imagines them.
"I do these songs because I believe in them as pieces of great art," Jungr related after one of her recent shows. "If the by-product of the show is that it creates new fans of the songs, that's wonderful but it isn't my intention. I completely get it that people may like or dislike some of the arrangements, particularly if they have relationships with certain songs. But people have come up to me and said they used to hate this song or that song and now they love it. The personal relationship people in New York have to Dylan and his songs has proved to be wonderfully alive, and his fans have been very generous to me. They completely get that I love his work so it's like we're sharing a bond."
Jungr creates that bond through her energy and passion for the material, which is evident from the first bars of "Tangled Up in Blue," which becomes a jazzy, finger-snapping opener (Barb provides percussion with an egg shaker), and during which she speaks some of the lyrics with her decidedly adorable British accent. With her reddish-orange hair framed by blondish streaks and wearing a colorful print dress over black leggings, on stage she looks like a mature 1960s flower-child. She then refers to "It Ain't Me Babe" as a "mean love song," and proceeds to offer it as an introspective ballad. During her October Met Room run, Jungr had observed that Dylan "doesn't have a conversation with his feminine side," which made hearing his songs sensitively delivered by a female all the more fascinating.
Jungr also brings a cheeky sense of humor to her between-songs script (reminiscent of Jennifer Saunders' character in the classic British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, only with less flakiness), an ideal juxtaposition to the intensely emotional numbers. Barb is both profound and funny when she refers to trying to uncover the messages in Dylan's lyrics as like "peeling a never-ending onion of oblivion." But her comedic gift of gab can sometimes send her on wacky and charming tangents, as when she related doing a Dylan show on a makeshift stage at a cattle market in Yorkshire, which was distinguished by "the delicate smell of dung and disinfectant." Then she delivered "The Times They Are a Changin'" as a lyric poem, featuring a jazzy scat break and a pulsating keyboard interlude from her pianist, MAC-award winner Tracy Stark (who also provides subtle background vocals throughout the set).