Internationally renowned singer Barb Jungr has sung everything from French chanson, cabaret and jazz to classical. She once even sang in an all-girl pop group. So when asked about her decision to make a cover album reworking the great classics of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, Jungr's answer cut straight to the point of what performance means to her:
"It's all about the storytelling."
Based in the UK, Jungr is returning to Canberra for one night only this June. With a career spanning four decades, this diva is known across the UK and New York for her Cabaret-style performances. Having sung in so many styles, Jungr's latest endeavour was, understandably, some time in the making.
"I made a Dylan album in 2002 … [I've] been doing Dylan work the whole of my solo career. People kept coming up at gigs and asking if I'd thought of singing Leonard Cohen," she said.
"I didn't want to do another cover album of a single artist. Then I realised one night that [Dylan and Cohen] were both products of a similar time, similar religious imagery, both speak of human imagery, philosophically and politically. I looked at these songs together and that's when for me, magic happened. They're looking at a situation which from the core is very similar. Stylistically and musically they're different, but the content is similar."
According to Jungr, now is the perfect time to rediscover the music of Dylan and Cohen; the songs are as relevant now as they were at the time they were written.
"The songs are political and have a meaning, it's almost as though they were written for now. It's energising," she says.
"I hope people will feel entertained in the full sense of the word. That they will be occupied, that they will laugh, cry and be challenged."
The concert will include cult tunes such as Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind and Cohen's Who by Fire and First we take Manhattan, delivered in a whole new light. Jungr's inimitable style blends a voice that lilts with the delicacy of French chanson, yet tells the stories with the pizzazz of cabaret and freedom of jazz.
Jungr's extensive experience performing with only a piano has, inevitably, made the singer's storytelling the focal point in her style. In this ensemble, the piano and bass offer the listener gentle space to let the signer's delicate nuances suffuse, such as in Cohen's 1000 Kisses Deep, and then the power to deliver the emphatic rendition of Dylan's Hard Rain.
When discussing her overall style, Jungr refers to the album as largely speaking in jazz. Listening to the songs, there are certainly moments where the improvisations wrap gently through chromatic steps and interesting dissonances, such as in Who by Fire. I suggest to Jungr that her time as a storyteller in the cabaret style is present in the stylings of the songs and she agrees. "I personally like narrative, I like stories and people and I think that's what theatre is," she says.
"I hugely identify with storytelling and cabaret."
Jungr describes the arrangements as being in her own style.
"We work quite hard to make the arrangements musically interesting. In the re-harmonisation, we changed rhythms and tempos, but I will never change something unless the song feels it can take it, if it doesn't work I won't do it," she says.
"It's got to work. I come to the end of a rearrangement and say, 'OK, when someone listens to this are they going to feel happy?' If they say, 'Hey, I never heard the song that way', I'm doing it right."
For the audience, the show will be a chance to rediscover the classics of Dylan and Cohen. For Jungr, each night is another opportunity to reinvent each of the songs and retell their tales and fables in a way that connects with the audience. With seemingly so much conflict in the world, these classics are worth revisiting and rediscovering. There couldn't be a more appropriate time to go and pull out the old albums of Dylan and Cohen.
"I close with Hard Rain and it's a monster," she says.
"Every performance, I think, what kind of a monster are you tonight? Some nights it's like a wild horse that charges through and some nights it's a unicorn full of secrets, and some nights it's triumphant or dangerous."
This gentle monster of a concert will be on at The Street Theatre on Wednesday 8th June at 7:30pm. Tickets are $55. Bookings and more information: 02 6247 1223 or thestreet.org.com.au