Blue Notes by Robin Lynam
Barb Jungr is one of those artists whose albums tend to be filed under "jazz" because it's hard to figure out where else they might belong.
She is also sometimes referred to as a cabaret or nightclub singer, and called "the UK's answer to Edith Piaf", although those descriptions don't do her justice.
Jungr is well known for her interpretations of Bob Dylan's songs, having released two albums devoted exclusively to them, but she also interprets other songwriters including Jacques Brel, Joni Mitchell, Ray Davies and Richard Thompson; she also writes herself.
Dylan keeps drawing her back though. Her first full-length collection of his songs, Every Grain of Sand, came out on Linn Records in 2002. She recorded more on subsequent albums, which Linn collected, along with four newly recorded arrangements on 2011's Man in the Long Black Cloak. She has returned to the same well for half of the songs on her latest album, Hard Rain, on Kristalyn Records.
Jungr had sung Leonard Cohen songs in concert for years, but not recorded them. She decided Cohen and Dylan could stand together in her new album. "They're all songs of philosophy and politics. [Dylan and Cohen] both have a certain core of political awareness, and they've written very truthfully and with a certain laser-like precision about who we are as people."
She wanted to sing their "tougher songs", Jungr says. "There was somehow a through thread to them - that the world they described, and the actions they rejected and celebrated were of as much importance today as the day those songs were penned."
Jungr has gone with simple instrumentation, with long-time collaborator and pianist Simon Wallace producing and handling the keyboards. Neville Malcolm and Steve Watts play bass, Richard Olatunde Baker and Gary Hammond contribute percussion, and Clive Bell plays shakuhachi.
The performances more than validate Jungr's reputation as one of Britain's finest interpretative singers, with particularly impressive versions of Cohen's First We Take Manhattan and Dylan's Masters of War. There are two remarkable achievements here: Blowin' in the Wind, which Dylan wrote in 1962 and which opens the album, sounds fresh; the album also offers the second, truly great reinterpretation of Chimes of Freedom.
The first was the Byrds' version on the 1965 Mr Tambourine Man album, but while their harmonies brought Dylan's imagery vividly to life, it clocked in at less than four minutes and dispensed with several verses. Here, Chimes of Freedom closes the album and is performed in its entirety in nine minutes.
Another artist known both as a chanson and jazz singer is Stacey Kent, who appears this Saturday at the Venetian Macao. Kent is an American-born multilingual vocalist who made her name performing in London, and whose most recent album, The Changing Lights, explores Brazilian music. It's a good, lightly jazzy, bossa nova set which includes some standards - One Note Samba, How Insensitive - and some original compositions by her husband and musical director Jim Tomlinson.
"Searching for songs that work together and that, once united, roll out all their magic, that is one of my greatest pleasures," says Kent. "The joy The Changing Lights gives me owes much to the balance we found between compositions and covers."
Three CDs featuring Jungr's interpretations of contemporary popular song.
Chanson: The Space in Between (2000, Linn Records): Jungr explores her European roots but this album is sung in English, including Jacques Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas and the Piaf anthem Je Ne Regrette Rien.
Just Like a Woman (2008, Linn Records): Jungr pays tribute to Nina Simone, recording songs associated with Simone and the civil rights movement, including some written by Dylan.
- Stockport to Memphis (2012, Naim Jazz): a mixture of Jungr's own compositions and interpretations of other writers including Sam Cooke, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, and, again, Dylan.