“ I find these songs…very joy bringing because they make me feel we’re all still awake.” Barb Jungr
Evangelist Barb Jungr is back with a juggernaut of incendiary observation by two of our most powerful and complex songwriter/poets. Dramatic engagement, ferocious vocal technique, and iconoclastic arrangements of often hypnotically repetitive melodies, make Jungr’s performance powerful and unique. Brothers and Sisters, listen and attend!
This is a hipster preacher. Bob Dylan’s slow-mo “Chimes of Freedom” and “Masters of War” remain anthemic despite performance evincing neither volume nor venom, but for jazz-riff emphasis on the occasional phrase. Jungr sways on a stool or keens forward, trance-like, her usually animated left arm laid on a knee, curled, open palm ready to receive.
With “Chimes” the artist doggedly insists. During “Masters” -to the rhythm of a chain gang dragging its feet, slaves, the march of burned-out soldiers, she indicts. Two spoken lines and one sung in upper register contralto, precede abrupt, freeze-frame finish. I find myself imagining the moment Billie Holiday ended her rendition of the then, brand new “Strange Fruit” at Café Society. Percussion is extraordinarily haunting and finessed; piano subdued.
“Perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, Leonard Cohen never goes there, but you know what…” introduces “The Future” Give me back the Berlin wall/Give me Stalin and St. Paul/ I’ve seen the future, brother/It is murder…Here, up tempo verse is spat out. Jungr dances (and boy, can she!), mimes, and often looks to her congregation for reaction a split second after a lyric.
Patter is quick and irreverent. “Dylanologists, ask yourself, are you going to get cheap jokes out of his lyrics? The answer is, of course, yes.” Jungr challenges her audience – and, likely, herself, by deploying raw emotion. She clearly believes times have not changed since the origin of this material and is hell bent on alerting us. With a voice that can glide from tensile and gritty to traditional-folk-pure and a sense of theater worthy of classical Greece, the performer exudes gravitational pull.
Selections range from Dylan’s “Blind Willie McTell” with Jungr’s own, pithy harmonica accompaniment; tapping leg-bent waist-step right-step left-head back-howl to Cohen’s smoldering “1000 Kisses Deep”: And sometimes when the night is slow/The wretched and the meek/We gather up our hearts and go/A Thousand Kisses Deep. The song is a soliloquy by today’s Ophelia-maddened, lost, brutalized by perception. Jungr’s vibrato stays in her throat. Pauses are ripe. Later, tonight’s holy roller has us all repeating the last chorus of Cohen’s “Land of Plenty.” Hallelujah!
Arrangements are persuasive, often tribal. Simple melody pairs with unexpected texture. Mike Lunoe shows terrific subtlety with a vast assortment of percussive, sound-emitting instruments. His touch and rhythm add immeasurably to this show.
Barb Jungr is solemn, angry, wickedly funny, and smart. The artist seemed energized afterwards. We were exhausted.
One caveat: Jungr’s opening song “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, by Bob Dylan, is performed with auctioneer phrasing, which is to say all but unintelligibly and monotone. Though the artist follows this with a quip about choosing Dylan and Cohen songs with the most words, those of the audience unfamiliar with her squirm. The rest of us wait it out.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Barb Jungr- Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen
Tracy Stark Piano; Mike Lunoe- Percussion
Co-Arrangements – Simon Wallace
59 East 59th Street
Through November, 9, 2014