It is often the case with great singer-songwriters that is difficult to separate the song from the performer. Yes, we all acknowledge they are great songs but they are so inextricably linked to the performance and the personality of the artist that it sometimes requires a great deal of imagination to see them any other way. Elton John songs were for many years rarely covered because it was impossible to imagine them otherwise. Then along came Two Rooms and everyone went wow.
Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen are, again, inexorably linked to their songs but have always, even from the very early days, been performed by other artists. The Byrds scored with the first major Dylan cover version with Mr Tambourine Man followed by Turn Turn Turn. The ridiculous of Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower was followed by the sublime of Judy Collins’ Tom Thumb’s Blues and Suzanne. For me, Judy Collins has always been the supreme interpreter of Dylan and Cohen. She brings a sadness, tenderness and warmth to the songs which frequently were not so apparent in the originals.
I must confess to never having heard of Barb Jungr before last night’s concert at the Playhouse Theatre in Cheltenham was announced. The show, based on her current album Hard Rain, presented songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen and she clearly has her own take on the music. Whereas Judy Collins is thoughtful and respectful, Ms Jungr is strident and in your face.
Barb Jungr’s act is very much jazz based. She is an authoritative, charismatic singer and with a powerful voice and infectious stage presence. But a Bob Dylan Leonard Cohen interpreter? I’m not so sure. I think she would be much more suited to more aggressive, assertive songs, Brecht/Weil for example or Jacques Brel. I’m not sure that Dylan/Cohen lend themselves to this rather extrovert show-bizzy, cabaret big-smile sort of presentation. Maybe she comes across better if just listened to.
While Dylan and Cohen are both wordsmiths rather than tunesmiths they have each written a number of outstanding, haunting melodies. These were not demonstrated to any great extent last night, which was a pity. It was the words, and lots of them, in which Ms Jungr was interested. She seemed to approach her concert as a sort of verbal marathon, a feat of stamina for both herself and the audience. We were warned at the outset that we were in for the long haul.
I’m sure there are those who appreciate Barb Jungr’s style and her interpretation of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen but I have to say it wasn’t my cup of tea. Michael Hasted