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Barb Jungr: Hard Rain (The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen)

John Eyles By

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Ever since Barb Jungr released her first album of Bob Dylan songs, Every Grain of Sand (Linn, 2002), she has been consistently praised as a Dylan interpreter par excellence. Each of her subsequent albums has included at least one Dylan song—she even included a couple each on her tribute albums to Elvis Presley and Nina Simone. As Jungr herself has said, "Once I had started singing Dylan's songs, I couldn't stop." Man in the Long Black Coat (Linn, 2011) was practically a sequel to Every Grain of Sand, consisting entirely of Dylan songs—newly recorded or compiled from past albums. So, it comes as no surprise that Hard Rain is another album featuring Dylan songs and titled after one.

The surprise is that Hard Rain is not another all-Dylan offering but gives equal billing (well, five tracks out of eleven...) to Leonard Cohen. Jungr has recorded Cohen songs before and has long featured them in concert, so this change did not come out of the blue. According to Jungr, it was prompted by fans at gigs often asking her, "Why aren't you recording Leonard Cohen songs? You do Bob Dylan..." She thought it would be good to do "because they both have a core of political awareness."

Hard Rain is eloquent testimony to the wisdom of the decision. Although there are differences between the songs of Dylan and of Cohen—particularly marked here as the Dylan songs are mainly from the sixties while those by Cohen are from much later—they easily sit side by side and make the album feel like an integrated whole, not two disparate halves stuck together. Dylan and Cohen's political awareness makes their songs work together, despite them articulating their politics in very different ways.

On past albums—notably The Men I Love: The New American Songbook (Naim, 2010)—Jungr and her arrangers, such as Simon Wallace, often radically reinvented well-known songs, to dramatic effect. Here, no such transformations are attempted and the songs are largely played straight, being allowed to tell their own stories in their own unforced way. As always, Jungr demonstrates her talent for conveying the stories and emotions of the songs, in a relaxed manner that makes it all sound as easy and natural as breathing—an enviable talent. Throughout, the accompaniment follows a similar pattern—relaxed, unobtrusive and designed to show off songs and voice to best effect.

The readings of these Dylan songs reaffirm Jungr's standing as a Dylan interpreter; her loose, easy version of "Chimes of Freedom"—made famous as a hit by The Byrds—emphasises that Jungr rivals the group as one of the best. In no way does it detract from her abilities as a Dylan interpreter to say that the revelation of Hard Rain is that her versions of the Cohen songs all but steal the album. As an album, it is the equal of Jungr's two all-Dylan ones but, more importantly, it opens up a rich new seam for her to mine. More!!

Track Listing: Blowin’ in the Wind; Everybody Knows; Who By Fire; Hard Rain; First We Take Manhattan; Masters of War; It’s Alright, Ma; 1000 Kisses Deep; Gotta Serve Somebody; Land of Plenty; Chimes of Freedom.

Personnel: Barb Jungr: vocals; Simon Wallace: piano, Hammond organ, synthesisers; Clive Bell: shakuhachi; Neville Malcolm: bass (2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11); Steve Watts: bass (1, 3, 8, 10); Gary Hammond: percussion; Richard Olatunde Baker: talking drum, additional percussion.

Title: Hard Rain (The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen) | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Kristalyn Records

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