Barb Jungr The Men I Love: The New American Songbook Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Jungr needs no added ingredients to improve her communication of these great songs.

John Eyles 2010

Before recording this album, Barb Jungr and her pianist Simon Wallace toured extensively with the stage version, The Men I Love. The show received rave reviews across the UK and in New York for Jungr’s daring interpretations of its songs, and for the drama and emotion her voice conjures up.

From Ella Fitzgerald in the 50s to Rod Stewart in the past decade, albums with “songbook” in the title have tended to feature classic songs by notable songwriters like Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter and their ilk. Now, this album has broken that mould and radically redefined the term.

The Men I Love: The New American Songbook focuses on songs written since the 60s, including some by stars like Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. Alongside these is an adventurous mixture that takes in Motown, The Monkees (via Neil Diamond), Bread, Talking Heads and Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon.

Jungr’s powers of interpretation make such an eclectic selection into a vital, coherent album. She sounds as if she has lived every line of every song. These are not just cover versions. Instead, Jungr and Wallace have taken the songs apart to find out how they work, before remodeling them.

Often the results are unrecognizable compared to the originals. The opener, Once in a Lifetime, bears no trace of Talking Heads’ funk workout, replaced by a sparse, dramatic and almost confessional reading that hinges on the line “my God, what have I done?” delivered with an appropriate sense of revelation.

Key to some of these versions is the combination of two songs on a related subject. Can’t Get Used to Losing You moves seamlessly into Red Red Wine, while This Old Heart of Mine becomes Love Hurts – the pain of lost love is a recurring theme throughout the album.

These recordings build on the piano and voice duo of the live show. The subtle addition of bass, cello, flute and percussion adds shading, complementing Jungr and Wallace without detracting from them. Jungr needs no added ingredients to improve her communication of the intense feelings contained in these great songs.

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