Barb Jungr made a very welcome return to the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, her last visit having been in 2006, when she presented her unique interpretations of the songs of Bob Dylan. Together with her musical director, accompanist, and co-writer, Simon Wallace, her performance consisted of a combination of interpretations of songs by several other famous singers, and a number of her own songs. Her performance took its title from her new album of the same name, Stockport to Memphis, with the songs coming from that album, too.
Although born in Rochdale to parents who had fled war torn Europe, her family moved when she was still very young and she grew up in Stockport, leaving the North West of England as soon as she could for the bright lights of London. Musically, she has come a long way from her early days, busking in Portobello Road, but she still lives in London. The Stockport part of the title is self explanatory but, as for Memphis, Tennessee, she pointed out that she had never been there, but wants to go, putting that desire into words with the expectation that it will be fulfilled.
The performance is an autobiographical journey, told with humour and a in a very warm and personal way that is a considerable part of her popularity with audiences. The major part of her great popularity, of course, is her marvellous voice and her remarkable control over it, with a wide range, huge dynamic variations, and her ability to express the full range of emotions. When Barb Jungr sings, every muscle in her body is engaged, from subtle changes to her facial expressions through to dropping down into a tight crouch.
Leonard Cohen‘s Everybody Knows was a great choice to open the performance, his poetic writing giving Jungr plenty to work with and showcasing her talent for making an existing and familiar work, completely her own. Jungr had the audience in the palm of her hand from start to finish and, if the venue was not booked for another show shortly after, they’d have called for more than the one encore.
She followed with two of her own songs, Sunset to Break Your Heart, and Till My Broken Heart Begins to Mend, the first song of the night to feature her very fine harmonica playing. These two moving numbers were contrasted by Joni Mitchell‘s River and, unexpectedly, Lost in the River, The Hank Williams song. Jungr’s tastes in music are wide ranging, and her interpretations exciting.
She’s Not There, the Zombies hit, has a sex change, and Neil Young‘s Old Man also gets a new look. Tom Waits doesn’t get overlooked, either, with a sensational version of Way Down in the Hole. Bob Dylan, of course, just had to be included and Jungr turned Lay Lady Lay inside out and upside down, reinventing the entire sentiment of the work in a remarkable show of insight.
The title track, Stockport to Memphis had the whole audience in the Dunstan Playhouse rocking along, to close the performance but, as expected, the loud and non-diminishing applause brought forth an encore. A great end to the performance was Sam Cooke‘s Change is Gonna Come. In that all too short seventy minutes Barb Jungr thrilled her long standing fans, and made a good many new ones. Simon Wallace classes himself as a composer, rather than an accompanist, but his work in this production was impeccable, beautifully supporting the rich and deeply engaging performance given by Barb Jungr. One can only hope for another visit very soon.