Barb Jungr – No Regrets

Barb Jungr – No Regrets

Barb Jungr (voice) with Jenny Carr (piano) & Jessica Lauren (organ, Moog synthesizer, autoharp, melodica, percussion & harmonicas)

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 22 July, 2008
Venue: Almeida Theatre, London

Barb JungrAfter her well-received Bob Dylan programme last year, Barb Jungr returned to the Almeida Theatre for an evening of classic ‘chansons’.

Jacques Brel quite reasonably dominated the set-list, albeit in recent translations by Des De Moor – Junger commenting that these were much truer to the original lyrics than those by Mort Shulman which first popularised Brel in English-speaking territories forty years ago. While this is true in literal terms, it is worth remembering that Brel himself was an admirer of Shulman’s work (unless this was expediency in the face of the latter’s ‘connections’!), and that being true to the letter of a given text is by no means the same as being true to its spirit.

Speculation aside, Jungr was in her element in the imploring rhetoric that Brel mined with co-writer Gérard Jouannest in “Marieke”, then brought out the simmering unease pervading Leo Ferre’s “Quartier Latin” to perfection. With its giddy evocation of low-life debauchery, the Brel/Jouannest “Amsterdam” loses little in latter-day translation and arguably gains from Jungr’s subtle nuancing of its closing lines, while Chip Taylor’s “Angel of the Morning” is a bittersweet gem that warrants ‘standard’ status.

Jungr found a palpable tension between constraint and longing in the semi-traditional “Le Partisan” that made the most of Anna Marly and Leonard Cohen’s barbed (no pun intended!) translation, then captured the wine and incense aura of the Brel/Jouannest number “Chansons des vieux amants” head-on, before Robb Johnson’s edgy “Sunday Morning St Denis” brought the first half to a vibrant close.

After the interval, Richard Thompson’s searching depiction of circus performers in “The Great Valerio” sounded defiant rather than sombre in Adrian York’s vivid arrangement, while the Brel/Jouannest evocation of death that is “Les Marquises” seemed the more affecting in Robb Johnson’s understated translation. Scott Davis’s “In the Ghetto” was a courageous move for Elvis, though diluted by the overly sentimental arrangement, so it was good to hear it done so unaffectedly as here. Formally known as “If You Go Away”, the Brel/Jouannest “Ne me Quitte Pas” duly worked its lovelorn magic – Jungr more than meeting the challenge posed by Dusty Springfield’s (unsurpassable?) take on this much-recorded classic, while her segueing of Tom Rush’s “No Regrets” (fatalistic rather than world-weary as with The Walker Brothers) into the uplifting Dumont/Vaucaire number of the same name was a gamble which paid off handsomely.

The histrionics of the Prévert/Cosma torch-song “Cri de Couer” are the more uninhibited in Fran Landesman’s reworking, but Jungr had more than enough in reserve for a soulful rendering of the Brel/Jouannest “Fils de” – given here in the familiar Schulman translation, albeit with just the refrain between verses altered: “So long ago” as opposed to “Much later on” – you choose.

Throughout the evening, Jungr had the benefit of atmospheric backing from Jenny Carr and Jessica Lauren – their undemonstrative keyboard-work opening-out the texture with poise and style. Jungr’s informal banter was a further enhancement of the occasion: good that she has returned to this repertoire after a lengthy absence, as there are few chanteuses more equipped to do it justice.

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