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Barb Jungr

Stockport To Memphis Tour

Naim Jazz

Barb Jungr – like her friend Ian Shaw – doesn’t just sing songs. She breathes life into them, reshapes them, enhances means of singing skill, imagination and drive. And driven she certainly was during the promotional date for this splendid new album at London’s Hippodrome nightspot. Whilst the gamblers took their chances on the spinning wheels and card tables downstairs, we upstairs in the music room were on safer ground. The album after all is cleanly recorded, very varied and stuffed with crisp interpretations plus a clutch of fine original compositions ( take a bow, keyboard and compositional ace Mr Simon Wallace – present and correct in the stage band tonight ) so the prospect of hearing this material in the metropolis was inviting in the extreme.

With bassist, drummer, two keys players and her own set of blues harmonicas, Jungr iced the show’s cake by instant rapport with the audience and plenty of stories and explanations or anecdotes about the numbers. It’s exactly why your scribe goes to live performances.  Artists should never be snooty about chatting to the crowd and cracking the odd joke ( I find it hard to refrain…), Barb’s touch of comedienne/ actress only embellishes the quality of the song delivery, you feel that you have come to much more than a recital.

Songs can mean a lot to an individual….you might well recall where you first heard a tune, or whose favourite it is or was…where you were when you first heard the song ? Jungr is very much One Of Us in this sense.  She loved the music coming from the American South, as did many of us – from Elvis, Junior Parker and Howlin’ Wolf onwards.  And, this stuff was evidently heard and enjoyed in Stockport and even Wigan !  Her soul vocals are deft and deep but equally, Barb can sing folk ballads with the purity and nobility of a Sandy Denny or Celia Humphries.  Add the fruity and forceful harp playing thrown in a few times during the evening and Jungr is playing from a good hand, to say the least.

So the set had people laughing, listening intently, tapping their toes and enjoying the spiky playing of the ensemble. Only quality material was no problem here.

Nobody I have heard can perform Laughing Lenny Cohen’s ‘Everybody Knows’ with such relished scathing pique as Barb ; then we are into the album’s ‘Sunset To Break Your Heart’ which oozes pain.  Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’ equals jazz maestro Herbie Hancock’s version for light-treading delicacy but in Jungr’s world is a gospel rolling lament, chorale et al. A very restrained arrangement and quasi-falsetto touches, elegant piano figures.
A rundown of spotty youths’ romantic rituals precedes the stirring ‘He’s Not There’ which is indeed the old Zombies song but from a female perspective. Works a treat.

Brush drumming underpins the reading Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, haunting piano giving the melody a stately tread, another inspired choice as Jungr makes it work. Terrific harp solo too!

New Life’ is dedicated to anyone ‘started off somewhere else’ – a reference to family members’ refugee /emigrant past. Curiously the song evokes the work of songmaster Pete Atkin whose quirky co-writes with Clive James struck this scribe when opening shows for him decades ago. On this, Barb’s phrasing has a definite Lena Horne tinge. ‘Way Down The Hole’ nods to the dubious benefits of a Catholic education ; elsewhere in the set there are references to young romance and a Hogarthian picture of teen angst in suburbia……

Dylan’s ‘Lay lady Lay’ was of course definitively performed on the ‘Isleys Live’ album but fits in here with its soft aching treatment, sighing Hammond to the fore. It’s as if The Band were playing this one.
‘Urban Fox’ sounds like an extract from a superior musical. Maybe that’s yet to come, as this record would likely make a distinctive platform for a stageshow.

A funky harp intro to ‘Til My Broken Heart Begins To Mend’ sounds like John Mayall.
Mike Scott is a strange fella,  but when he wrote ‘Fisherman’s Blues’ he gave The Waterboys a classic folkrock song and here it sounds plaintive and elemental.

Another harp break happens on ‘Stockport To Memphis’ to complement the Simone-like vocal, strident and fiery. The show is topped off with a soul classic which I won’t give away, mainly because you should see Jungr perform for yourselves, I humbly suggest .

A unique blend of Sandy Denny, Ann Peebles and Victoria Wood at various times in the show, Barb Jungr is keeping it personal with this release, but it’s a universally entertaining set – on disc or on stage

Pete Sargeant

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