Since her breakthrough Chanson: The Space in Between
(Linn, 2000), vocalist Barb Jungr has mainly released albums of songs by other people. Several have focused on the work of one performer, notably Every Grain of Sand
(Linn, 2002), consisting of Bob Dylan
songs, the Elvis Presley tribute Love Me Tender
(Linn, 2005) and Just Like a WomanA Hymn to Nina... Barb Jungr Sings Nina Simone
(Linn, 2008). Others, such as The Men I Love: The New American Songbook
(Naim, 2010), have been albums of Jungr's favorite contemporary songs.
Successful as those albums have been, collectively they have shifted the spotlight from Jungr's own songwriting, although a few of her post-2000 albums included Jungr compositions. On Stockport to Memphis
, she tilts the balance back towards her compositions, while still featuring songs by her favorite songwriters. In the process, she has delivered an album that is more autobiographical and personal than any mentioned above.
There has long been a confessional, autobiographical element to Jungr's between-song chats to live audiences. Here, songs such as "Stockport to Memphis" and "New Life" reflect that side of her, focusing on her family history as well as capturing the excitement and vulnerability of a young woman leaving home. The lyrics of "New Life" eloquently convey that:
"When I waved goodbye to Stockport with a pirouette and song
and I took the bus to Manchester and danced the whole night long
Bought a ticket into Euston, said goodbye to everyone
and my heart was set on Beale Street and a new life had begun."
Accompanied by Mark Armstrong's muted trumpet, with a brief Simon Wallace piano solo, the track is exquisitely nostalgic.
Compared to those two songs, the album's other Jungr compositions evoke strong emotions just as well, although they do not have their autobiographical detail. So, "Urban Fox"about the animal of the titleworks at two levels, one literal, and one metaphorical. "Till My Broken Heart Begins to Mend," with fine harmonica from Jungr herself, does justice to the song's title.
As ever, Jungr's voice, phrasing and emphasis nail the essence of each song, making its meaning felt as much as heard. This is as true on others' songs as on her own. Of course, the album includes a Dylan song"Lay Lady Lay," this time around given a tender reading with the entire band in top form, notably Wallace on atmospheric Hammond organ. Two other songsJoni Mitchell
's "River" and Hank Williams' "Lost on the River"were key parts of Jungr's River set which she toured in 2010-11; both are superbly performed, benefitting from having been honed in front of live audiences. Other highlightsin an album full of theminclude The Zombies classic "(S)he's Not There," given a subtle gender change, and Neil Young's "Old Man," which Jungr (born 1954) says she now appreciates more from the viewpoint of its subject than its writer. As this album demonstrates, she is maturing like fine wine.
Personnel: Barb Jungr: vocals, harmonica, backing vocals; Simon Wallace: piano, Hammond organ; Jenny Carr: piano (4); Rod Youngs: drums; Neville Malcolm: double bass; Natalie Rozario: cello; Mari Wilson: backing vocals; Ian Shaw: backing vocals; Sarah Moule: backing vocals; Gary Hammond: percussion; Mark Armstrong: trumpet; Roddy Matthews: guitar (1).