Barb Jungr - Man in the Long Black Coat Live in NY - Cabaret Scenes

I'm an old fashioned purist. If interpretation is not in service of lyrics, I don't care how well a performer sings. I was therefore doubly surprised and delighted to discover the splendid entertainer Barb Jungr (I know I'm late), who not only communicates with fine voice and style, but has rethought the songs of Bob Dylan with originality grounded in the writing and intention. "I didn't come to Bob Dylan in my first flush," she tells the audience, "I was a Motown girl. I'm a born-again Bob Dylan person." Discovery out of context may be pivotal to her unique perspective.

The Man in the Long Black Coat is beautifully researched and crammed with sharp humor. Jungr is extremely likeable. She inhabits songs, which seem to then control her expressive face and body. Dylan's folk and gospel periods are exemplified, sometimes as ballads where the original recordings were folk rock. Numbers tilting towards blues and jazz work with fresh musicality. Observations about influential women in the songwriter's life are bright and informing, as is Jungr's take on Dylan's quintessentially male psyche. A strong through line of mostly successful arrangements carries the show like a current; many are by the singer in capable partnership with the arrangers.

Vocal clarity makes selections ring with pith and meaning, of which even we boomers may not have been fully aware. The iconic "The Times They Are A-Changin," "Like a Rolling Stone" and the anthem-like "Forever Young," on which the audience came in with clarion cry, join lesser-known numbers, like the beautiful title song, and "Blind Willie McTell." Variety with balance is in effect.

Jungr's middle-range vocals are equally confident, whether phrasing is velvet or raw, punctuated attitude. She's able to convey sweetness as well as anger, sing a single word in ten notes, and has seemingly effortless control over the longest, most intricate lines imaginable. Jungr ably scats and plays an enthusiastic harmonica. At full throttle, she's enthralling.

Pianist Tracy Stark's vocal harmonies are a welcome addition to her skilled accompaniment.

Ms. Jungr continue at the Metropolitan Room 10/25-29.

19 October 2011