Out To Lunch Digest: Part 2
Barb Jungr sings Bob Dylan – Every Grain of Sand
“It’s all about Bob tonight” Barb Jungr smiled. “It’s all about Bob.”
Jungr – a composer, singer-songwriter, celebrated jazz singer and cabaret performer – was on stage in Belfast on a crisp January evening for the Out To Lunch festival. She was performing a show advertised as Barb Jungr sings Bob Dylan – Every Grain of Sand, her own acclaimed reinterpretations of songs from Bob Dylan’s historical back catalogue.
Jungr’s 2002 first tribute album to Bob Dylan, Every Grain of Sand, went on to become a cult classic with its powerful new expressions of Dylan’s songs, arranged and performed by Jungr herself. It reached the Sunday Times Top Ten Jazz Albums Of The Year when it was released, and was more recently hailed as ‘the most significant vocal album of the 21st century’ by The Wall Street Journal in 2013. This created a path for Jungr, a journey through the vast works, and times, and life of Bob Dylan.
Fifteen years later in the Black Box as she stretched the full gamut of her incredible voice up there on stage, Jungr was performing numbers from Every Grain of Sand and other reinterpretations she has since made of Dylan songs. But we had much more than those recordings in the room, we had Jungr in person, standing in front of us, bringing out new meaning, or more meaning, by the way she executed the songs, by her performance. The inter-song chat, stories, and insight into the tracks. The political leaning that gave a 2017 context to songs written by Dylan decades ago. Arrangements that changed the shift of a song, pauses that altered the emphasis of a line or a word, accompanied by gestures and facial expressions that directed and entertained. And the lyrics. The lyrics were audible; they were clear and distinct. No nasally sandy mumbles adding to the mystery. Jungr wanted these words to be heard while she worked hard to honour them.
Take ‘Things Have Changed’ for starters. With the sole accompaniment of Jenny Carr on piano, Jungr was holding the mic in one hand, the other adding background crickets to the sound with a small shaker. “Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet/ Putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street.” The ‘e’ in “wheelbarrow” was stretched and high pitched like they’re rolling downhill in a hurry. She would later stand slightly sideways, eyes closed, smiling, pausing, shaking her head. Accentuating with the pauses, leading with a smile.
Her voice was ever so slightly breathy in ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’. Understated and melodic her vocals crooned us through the song, and then it shifted for one short line. “Bring that bottle over here” was spoken. Not sung. Requested. It placed her right there, within arm’s length of whoever she was talking to. And because she was in the same room as us, we were there too. Five short words spoken, placed us in the story.
She was in Belfast a couple of days before Trump’s inauguration and it was playing on her mind. “We’re on the eve of the most extraordinary weekend in my life” she chatted while she prepared for her next song. Then later, as she introduced ‘I Want You,” she quoted some lines. “The drunken politician leaps/ Upon the street where mothers weep” she recited, adding that there will be plenty of people crying this weekend. The best though was ‘A hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’. She was a few lines in, somewhere around the middle of seven sad forests, when she stopped. “You know what” she marched over to Carr at the piano. “It’s a pity I’m not invited to the inauguration. I could have sung this …” Perfect comic timing. And Carr, whose impressive playing had been interrupted by the discontent Jungr, smiled and nodded. “You might think that” she may have been thinking, “I couldn’t possibly comment.”
At the end of the night she was ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” for which she brought us in on the act as she sang the chorus. We were a low, shy, happy chorus to back her. And as she finished we started to rise up off our seats, one by one, and then in bunches, we started to clap. Not for the first time that evening, Barb Jungr received a standing ovation.