Metropolitan Room – May 18-23
When you think of an interpretive singer, one name that stands out is Barb Jungr. Jungr not only studies the lyrics, but takes them apart to root out the substance that speaks to her. She then reconstructs them and makes them her own. She will surround her selection with humor and anecdotes that lead right into the next song, and then, caught up in the melody with a voice that can be strong and theatrical or gently heartbreaking, she brings a new depth and to her selection.
Barb Jungr is also not afraid to take risks, even with the subjects of her program. She has been acclaimed for her readings of Nina Simone, Jacques Brel, Bob Dylan and Fran Landesman, but after a six-day run earlier this year at the Café Carlyle, Jungr returns to the Metropolitan Room with the program she calls “River.” That is what it’s about—rivers and the dramas that flow within them. She loves rivers, she lives near the Thames and discloses that every selection contains the word “river,” and your challenge is to find it. Or not.
A few well-known river songs immediately come to mind, and, yes, one is Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s “Ol’ Man River.” Jungr begins this with melancholy thoughtfulness, but then lifts it up in vibrant fury. Remembering her teenage days, she speaks of the fluidity of time and pairs “Lazy Afternoon” (John Latouche and Jerome Moross) and Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane’s memory of spending afternoons high in “Itchycoo Park.” Two different moods—or maybe not so different.
Most selections, however, are unfamiliar, but Jungr infuses them with importance. Choosing “Sweet Thames Flow Softly,” Jungr says of the songwriter, Ewan MacColl, “He wants everyone to sing along.” By mid-song, with Jungr conducting which sections were hers to sing and which went to the audience, surprisingly many joined in.
Barb Jungr, raised in Northern England, is most influenced by ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s pop, rock, soul and folk, and she revives them through her own prism of understanding, optimism and wit. They sound contemporary. She feels “Ferry Cross the Mersey” (Gerry Marsden for Gerry and the Pacemakers) has a nostalgic Beatles feel but sounds up-to-date, although pianist and musical director, Simon Wallace, slips in a snippet of Beatles. Taking on Nina Simone’s hit “Feeling Good” (Leslie Bricuse and Anthony Newley), Wallace backs Jungr’s brassy, audacious vocal with a tough rock rhythm.
Jungr is well aware of the power of songs, how emotional they can be and how strongly they can affect listeners. Many selections are dark, sometimes desperate, like Percy Mayfield’s intensely personal “The River’s Invitation.” She delivers Bruce Springsteen’s compelling tale of a blue-collar teenage marriage, “The River,” sensitive to its swing of lust, frustration and despair. Acknowledging the soul of country music, she mentions Hank Williams and sings “Lost on the River,” a song of lost love that shifts the meaning of a river to the river of life. Adding to the real-life feel of these often despairing songs, Jungr fearlessly dives with great passion into “Everything I Own” (David Gates), building it up with palpable power and making any previous versions seem lackluster.
To a rollicking rhythm, Jungr ends her show with Al Green and Mabon Hodge’s “Take Me to the River,” adding her harmonica. With an alto voice that can ring clear or lend a raspy edge, Barb Jungr presents music that resonates with artistry, honesty, and life. Partnered with the exquisite sensitivity of Simon Wallace, this is a special pair.