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Barb Jungr: Bob, Brel & Me

John Eyles By

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Apparently, Barb Jungr considers Bob, Brel and Me her best ever and has said of it, "I may not make another." Given her productivity over recent years, it is tempting to doubt that; but if it does turn out to be true, this album will make a great finale. Rather than being a one-off project, Bob, Brel and Me feels like an integral part of the warp and weft of Jungr's work since 1999. As early as her album Bare (Irregular Records, 1999), Jungr was covering a Jacques Brel song—"Sons Of"—and she included four of his compositions on Chanson—The Space in Between (Linn, 2000) alongside other songs with a French connection.

Just as significant was her next album Every Grain of Sand (Linn, 2002) which featured fifteen Bob Dylan songs dating from 1963 to 2001; after it, Dylan compositions became a regular feature of her recordings and live performances. For years before recording Brel or Dylan songs, Jungr had been writing, performing and recording her own songs with others, notably Michael Parker with whom she was in a duo for thirteen years.

So, although many other songwriters figure in Jungr's discography, the title Bob, Brel and Me neatly encapsulates three principal sources of songs she has sung. Fittingly, the album gives equal weight to all three; of its fifteen tracks, five each are compositions by Dylan, Brel and Jungr. It kicks off with a barnstorming jazzy version of Jungr and Mike Lindup's "Rise and Shine," featuring Jamie Safir on piano plus the ever-present pairing of bassist Davide Mantovani and drummer Rob Youngs, with the sax of Mark Lockheart and trumpet of Pete Horsfall working together to sound like a full brass section behind Jungr.

Next up is Brel's "Jacky," in a new translation by Robb Johnson with lyrics as attention-grabbing as Scott Walker's 1967 version. Jenny Carr on piano, Safir moving to organ—a combination that is deployed on several tracks—and Gabriella Swallow's cello combine in a mellow backing that works effectively. The horns return for the first Dylan track, "Mr Tambourine Man," which had miraculously avoided being recorded on Jungr's previous Dylan albums. Making up for lost time, she gives a typically heartfelt reading that reflects her love of Dylan songs.

And so it continues, with the instrumentation and arrangement of each track individually tailored to suit the song in question and Jungr's rendition of it. Such attention to detail has resulted in an album of great variety but consistent quality. Although it has been true of her albums for many years now, it is worth emphasising that there is not one track here that does not match up to the high standards Jungr sets for herself and her fellow musicians.

Oddly, that statement is not contradicted by the fact that two contrasting tracks, both by Brel, stand out from the rest as being the best on the album. "The Cathedral," the longest track here at six-and-a-quarter-minutes features only Jungr's voice plus Safir at the piano; consequently, both are exposed, but rise to the occasion to give a bravura performance drenched in emotion. In contrast, the closing track, "If We Only Had Love," finds Jungr and Safir alone in the company of the twenty-one member Fourth Choir who provide lush accompaniment for her rendition of Brel's epic hymn to love. A stunning way to conclude this stunning album.

Track Listing: Rise & Shine; Jacky; Mr.Tambourine Man; Incurable Romantic; The Tender Hearts; Buckets of Rain; One Too Many Mornings; The Cathedral; No-one Could Ever Wear Your Shoes; Simple Twist of Fate; Sometimes; Secret Spaces; To See a Friend Break Down and Cry; This Wheel’s On Fire; If We Only Had Love.

Personnel: Barb Jungr: vocals, harmonica (7); Davide Mantovani: double bass; Rod Youngs: drums; Pete Horsfall: trumpet (1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11); Mark Lockheart: saxophone (1, 3, 7); Jamie Safir: piano (1, 4, 8, 10, 12, 15), organ (2-4, 6, 7, 11, 14); Jenny Carr: piano (2, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14), accordion (6); Gabriella Swallow: cello (2, 13); Mike Lindup: chorus vocal (4), other vocals (5); Christoph Bracher: other vocals (5); The Fourth Choir:- Victoria Ely: conductor; Eve Berwin, Kathleen Holman, Megan Inglis, Fiona Mortimer, Rioghnach Sachs, Che Ramsden: sopranos; Michaela Cauntier, Ellie Dragonetti, Suzy Duggan, Jill Pett, Kathryn Thomson, Sarah de Winter: altos; Sam Henson, Séamus Rea, Alistair Semmence: tenors; Gus Cairns, Daniel Florea, Ben Lumb, Kit Senior, Finn Schulze-Feldmann, Peter Warwick: basses (15).

Title: Bob, Brel & Me | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Absolute

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