Review by Paulanne Simmons
British chanteuse Barb Jungr turned 60 this year. And she’s “had enough of love songs.” Instead, her new show, Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, is filled with the two singer/songwriters’ political and philosophical work. And so, Jungr advised her audience at 59E59 Theaters they would be listening to songs with the most words in one evening.
A set list with the likes of Dylan’s “It’s All Right Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” “Chimes of Freedom” and “Masters of War,” or Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan,” “Everybody Knows” and “1000 Kisses Deep” would, in itself, be worthy of note, but Jungr gives each song a lyricism and subtlety that turns every expectation on its head.
Jungr slows down rock and gives folk a jazzy twist. Every once in a while she delivers a line with a wry smile or a knowing nod. There are mysterious truths to these songs, and she’s letting us in on the secret.
There’s also a lot of humor. Although Jungr is meticulous about every note and every line in a lyric, she does not always take herself very seriously. At one point in the show, she notes that her near obsession with Bob Dylan might be the result of nothing else to do.
With Tracy Stark at the piano and Mike Lunoe on percussion, the three performers achieve a synthesis of melody, rhythm and mood one does not often hear. It’s almost as if Jungr, Stark and Lunoe are in their own dimension and allowing the audience to join them for a while.
Although many of Dylan and Cohen’s songs are 40 or 50 years old, Jungr believes “their music was so prescient; all of these songs could have been written this morning.”
But in Jungr’s hands, it is not only Cohen and Dylan’s visionary quality that makes their work so relevant. It is also her thoughtful reworking and emotional investment that breathes new life into smoldering embers.
Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59 Street, through Nov. 9. For tickets, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.