Barb Jungr at Joe's Pub, February 15, 2020.
Last Saturday night I took my husband, the writer Robert Rosen (Nowhere Man, Bobby in Naziland), to the glamorous but velvet-womb-like NYC venue Joe’s Pub for a slightly belated Valentine’s Day. I wanted him to hear live the fabulous British singer Barb Jungr, whom I’d seen a couple of times before at other venues. A great song interpreter, for this show she performed works by Bob Dylan, Jacques Brel, and herself.
I especially liked her rendition of Dylan’s “Buckets of Rain.” I’d forgotten about it but used to enjoy its old-timey jauntiness. Jungr slowed it down into a serious love song, plaintively addressed to “honey baby.” As often happens when I hear Jungr cover songs, even those I’m very familiar with, I discovered things about the lyrics that had previously eluded me. She also did “Simple Twist of Fate,” one of my favorites—though I’ve listened more to the Joan Baez version than Dylan’s—complete with Jungr on harmonica (which seemed like an extension of her mic), joining her accompanist Mark Hartman, quick and sensitive on the piano.
As for Brel, Jungr’s performance of “Jacky” was especially moving; she explained in her intro to the song—in which Brel feverishly grabs us by the throat with his intense desire to be young and celebrated again—that the Belgian chanteur wrote it after learning he had a terminal disease. Despite this very sad circumstance, Jungr also made us laugh with an explanation—once she gave us a “trigger warning”— about the translation (French to English), involving a couple of synonymous obscenities and the difference in how they affect an American versus English audience, not to mention the Fondation Jacques Brel, which has control of its namesake’s works. (Though she is technically allowed to sing only one of the words, she did them both, emphatically.)
Jungr gets between my friend Dee Burton, who first told me about the singer, and me at 54 Below in 2015.
Photo by Bob Goldberg.
Although Jungr laughed uproariously about performing her own songs alongside those of such music giants, the couple she sang were beautiful and idiosyncratic, fitting in well. The poignant “Sometimes” is from an intriguing-sounding opera about Mabel Stark, a renowned tiger trainer in the 1920s, that Jungr is writing with the composer Jonathan Cooper. (Maybe it will be called “The Lady and the Tiger,” unless that’s too on-the-nose. Anyway, I’ll be on the lookout for it.)
Whether doing her own work or others’, there is something brave about the way Jungr performs. She goes high, she goes low—and I don’t mean vocally, though she has an extensive range—and seems always unafraid and clear-eyed, able to see both the humor and the pathos in all of us humans.
For those who missed the show (or didn’t), Jungr has a new CD out: Bob, Brel and Me. All three singer-songwriters are in good company.