Barb Jungr – Hard Rain at The Jazz Club, Soho/Lauren Fox – Love, Lust, Fear & Freedom at Crazy Coqs, London.
The link binding these two shows, seen on consecutive days as part of the three-week London Festival of Cabaret, was the work of the bleak Canadian songwriter-poet Leonard Cohen.
Barb Jungr shared “the Rat Pack rabbi” (as one writer once dubbed him) with her all-time favourite Bob Dylan in promoting her savage new CD Hard Rain.
London debutante Lauren Fox, an actress-singer-cookbook writer-tea-house owner from New York (although she tells us nothing about herself other than that her “guy” Andrew Powers is playing guitar behind her), makes the connection with his one-time lover and fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell.
Both warned we were not going to be in for an easy ride: Fox said: “If you’ve come to be uplifted and cheery, you’re at the wrong show”; Jungr opened with “if you’re expecting Burt Bacharach, you’ll be disappointed”.
Amazingly, so rich and prolific is the Cohen catalogue that you could go to both sets and not hear the same song twice. Jungr’s five are among his most outrageously political ones including ‘Everybody Knows’ and ‘Land of Plenty’; Fox takes a more familiar route with ‘Suzanne’, ‘Bird On a Wire’ and the inevitable ‘Hallelujah’ (an outstanding interpretation).
The American visitor told us she first got her love of Joni and Leonard from a Judy Collins album on which Mitchell’s ‘Michael From the Mountains’ and Cohen’s ‘Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye’ featured. In fact, Fox’s voice resembles that of the great Collins far more than it does the high-pitched soprano of Mitchell, but I found it lacking a little in variety of pace and range.
Having already had much success with Dylan (and two earlier CDs), it was perhaps not surprising that Jungr’s marathon protest song ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’ had such a profound effect on her Soho audience, but if that was a show-stopper, then Cohen’s wonderfully expressive and wonderfully expressed ‘1000 Kisses Deep’ was not far behind.
Nobody understands a lyric quite like Jungr or invests every line (even those that don’t make sense to normal humans) with every possible nuance. She makes the everyday seem different, every phrase a fresh gem.
Cohen’s blacker-than-black cynical take on his fellow men as portrayed in “everybody knows the fight is fixed/the dice are loaded/the poor stay poor/the good guys lost” or the outlandish views expressed in ‘The Future’ are not pretty and Jungr makes no attempt to make them palatable.
This consummate artist gets more out of a song than anyone in the business.
The jury’s out on Fox who pulled her show out of the fire with a strong finish (‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Both Sides Now’) after a nervous start in which she struggled during Cohen’s ‘Night Comes On’ and found it difficult to pick up the thread before the interval.
Her linking material, while painting interesting pictures of Cohen and Mitchell’s voracious appetite for the opposite sex – “he could seduce any woman anywhere with the word, the voice, the devilish grin” and “Joni broke a lot of hearts” – occasionally sounded stilted and rehearsed, but the idea of donning a Cohen-type hat placed at a rakish angle when she switched songwriters was a simple but effective ploy.
Jon Weber was her pianist and MD, while bass player Ritt Henn deservedly got a round of applause for his solo on ‘I’m Your Man’.
Regular collaborator Simon Wallace was Jungr’s brilliant helpmate on piano and further welcome backing support came from Dudley Phillips on bass.
Two fascinating and very different evenings.
Readers may also be interested in:
Fascinating Aida – Charm Offensive – St James Theatre – Review
Julie Atherton – Tempting Fate – St James Theatre Studio – Review
Adam Guettel – why the composer is drawn to cabaret – Interview
Simon Green – So This Then is My Life – Crazy Coqs – Review