This Wheel’s On Fire: Barb Jungr continues at Crazy Coqs, London, until 4 October.
With more than half the 17 songs in Barb Jungr’s new show This Wheel’s On Fire either the work of Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, this compilation is chiefly a further salute to those two great North American-Jewish wordsmiths whose flame she has been carrying into the 21st century ever since her first Dylan CD 12 years ago.
And what an important part this unique interpreter of the New American Songbook (well, a good deal newer than the Great American Songbook of Berlin, Porter, Gershwin and Kern at any rate) is playing in keeping the genius of Dylan’s ever-potent political lyrics alive.
Given that Dylan’s voice sounded like a bullfrog gargling with broken glass and Cohen’s imagery was not always matched by the world-weariness of the composer’s baritone, they should be eternally grateful to have Jungr’s commitment to the truth of their words and her innate musicality working so passionately on their behalf.
Dylan’s marathon ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’, which closes Jungr’s second set in epic fashion, still packs a mighty punch, as do those signature songs of the early sixties, ‘Blowin in the Wind’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’.
Having the same birth-year as Robert Zimmerman, I cannot over-emphasise how great the effect of Dylan’s early work was on the young people of that era and what an important role Jungr, a lass from Rochdale who has deservedly and over a long time built a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic, is playing in keeping Dylan’s work in front of today’s generation.
Cohen, of course, is a later vintage in the fame stakes even though, at 80 and with a new CD just out to mark the landmark, the Canadian’s a good deal older than Dylan and his songs are darker and more mysterious.
The bleakness of ‘The Future’ (“Take the only tree left and stuff it up the hole in your culture/Give me back the Berlin Wall, give me Stalin and St Paul/I’ve seen the future, brother: It’s murder) is well matched by the bitter beauty of ‘Land of Plenty’ (“For what’s left of our religion/I lift my voice and pray/May the lights of the Land of Plenty/Shine on the truth one day”).
And Jungr gives them plenty too. You don’t leave the Crazy Coqs thinking you’ve been to a Burt Bacharach concert, I can tell you. It’s tough out there and she tells it how it is, using all the armoury at her disposal, a voice that does soft and hard with equal facility, and arms and body that never stop working in harmony with that thrillingly versatile instrument.
Of the other material, ex-Fairport Convention folkie Robert Thompson’s ‘Pharoah’ questioning what happens to his money before he gets his hands on what’s left of it, and the power-packed Mick Jagger-Keith Richards’ ’Paint It Black’ make the biggest impression, while the Show Boat classic ’Ol’ Man River’ is Jungr’s lone concession to the old guard and all the more striking for being sandwiched between ‘The Future’ and ‘Hard Rain’.