As Barb Jungr sees it, the Great American Songbook – a repertoire of vocal standards that ends somewhere in the 1940s – ought to be expanded to include the great singer-songwriters she grew up listening to in the ’60s and ’70s. So the British-born cabaret singer has created what she calls the ”New American Songbook”, allowing her to reimagine popular songs by her favourite US postwar artists.
Jungr’s book is flexible enough to incorporate the odd Canadian, too; her program on Friday included a playful nod to Leonard Cohen, and an achingly wistful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s River. Actually, Jungr could have called her current show River Songs, as it features almost half a dozen river-themed tunes. We heard a melancholy Lost on the River (Hank Williams); a soulful, jazz-inflected River’s Invitation (Percy Mayfield); and a deliciously swaggering Take Me to the River (Al Green).
And on Bruce Springsteen’s The River, Jungr demonstrated her startling ability to cut straight to a song’s emotional core, conveying the heartbreaking journey from youthful fantasy to crushing reality. With minimalist arrangements and unusually slow tempos, Jungr focuses her attention squarely on melody and lyrics, drawing us into the story within each song as she makes it hers – and ours.
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