Barb Jungr “Man in the Long Black Coat”
with Tracy Stark
I am a child of the 60s whose musical tastes are rooted decades earlier. Jazz and blues and ballads and great singers who tell the story of a song and melodies that communicate and simple structures. Words rule. For all these years, the role of Bob Dylan in our cultural consciousness has eluded me. Sure, select numbers among his tunes as I have heard them covered by others such as “Times They Are a Changin'” and “Don’t Think Twice” and “Like a Rolling Stone” — even my hard-hearted traditional ballad-loving soul could move to those. Dylan infused my generation’s musical atmosphere. But Dylan as a performer and guide to the rest of his deep songbook? This was a non-starter for me. I could not understand him and without the words I was lost. Words first, melodies second, the whole package then constructed. As my guide to these treasures, I now admit, I have found Barb Jungr. For two more weeks of performances at the intimate Metropolitan Room, New Yorkers need to find her too.
Press materials tell me that this is Jungr’s first live show devoted entirely to Dylan. I learn that this strategy of deconstructing, in jazzy-bluesy-barrelhouse-y style, songs by American rockers, is this British singer’s strategy toward revealing the role songwriters like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, David Byrne, and Elvis Presley should (she believes) have in the Great American Songbook. Toward that end, performing this particular show in a lovely cabaret setting is a great theatrical construct. And toward that end, at least as far as Dylan is concerned, Jungr has convinced me.
I love that she embraces her passionate fandom in setting up individual tunes, in elaborating her own deep and long-term relationship with Dylan’s music. She also laughs at the intensity of her fandom then continues on, using it to illustrate with grace and style and deep knowledge the context of each tune in Dylan’s life and, occasionally, in her own. (Her recollections of a stay at the Chelsea Hotel years ago, for example, are sweet and touching.) As exquisitely crafted cabaret sets that have a dramatic arc with songs-as-scenes that build to musical climax then denouement-resolution, Jungr and her delightful piano partner Tracy Stark (who provides the occasional dueting vocal) give us a theatrically constructed world according to Dylan.
Listen for her delicious phrasing in “Don’t Think Twice.” Enjoy the surprise of a hushed, almost whispered “Like a Rolling Stone.” Find your own new appreciation of tunes that may be cherished favorites or, as for me, are new to you with this hearing. Truly, believe me on this, just go.
© Martha Wade Steketee (April 14, 2012)