Barb Jungr - Man in the Long Black Coat Live - The Times

A restless wanderer on the borderlands of jazz and pop, Barb Jungr is instinctively drawn to the ambiguities of America's greatest troubadour. She possesses, as well, a dry sense of humour; there is no danger of her becoming overly reverent. Is Man in the Long Black Coat a meditation on the Grim Reaper, or a ghostly portrait of Johnny Cash? Or could it simply be a song about, well, a man in a long black coat?

Born in Rochdale to Central European parents, Jungr has pursued her own brand of contemporary cabaret, avoiding Broadway schmaltz without indulging in oh-so fashionable alt-cabaret shock tactics. Her voice is supple enough to tease out every nuance in a Dylan lyric as she reshapes it to her own ends. Some purists will no doubt hate the liberties she has taken ever since she released the Every Grain of Sand collection a decade ago. But just as she has done with Jacques Brel, she has given the songs a life of their own. Moreover, if you have never warmed to Dylan's idiosyncratic delivery, she offers a compelling point of entry.

What gave this show extra force was the contrast between the pared-down keyboard settings and the intricately wrought vocals. Some of her studio arrangements flirt with over-embellishment. Here in Soho, with the excellent pairing of Simon Wallace and Jenny Carr supplying understated accompaniment on piano and electric keyboard (they criss-crossed the stage at regular intervals as they swapped roles) numbers such as It Ain't Me, Ring Them Bells and Blind Willie McTell burnt with a low yet sharp flame.

Much as she admires Dylan the artist, Jungr is willing to poke fun of his failings as a flesh-and-blood romantic partner. There was a droll digression on his relationship with Joan Baez. But on Sara she gave us a breathtakingly intense glimpse of a relationship slowly sinking beneath the waves.

Roses Theatre, Tewkesbury, Thur; Pound Arts Centre, Corsham, Sat. Full dates at www.barbjungr.co.uk

01 February 2012