I was happy to have caught Barb Jungr’s concert, Dancing in the Dark, her celebration of the Winter Solstice, British style. The renowned chanteuse from the U.K. and piano accompanist Tracy Stark performed in concert for one week at 59E59 Theaters in a limited engagement through Sunday, December 29.
Jungr commented at the outset of the show that in the U.K. individuals celebrate the Winter Solstice for about three weeks, and only nurses and doctors and those who provide essential services are on call. The rest of the populace kicks off their shoes and relaxes, or kicks up their heels and travels to all areas of the globe. She joked that in the U.S. there is no long “work-free” celebration during the winter as in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. By comparison, we take off one day, if that. Her comment brought laughs because we know its bitter truth, and somewhere deep inside, we acknowledge that this manic behavior is stressful and perhaps one of the reasons Americans swallow so many pharmaceuticals.
That Winter Solstice introduction was a harbinger of the humor and emotional honesty to follow during the marvelous 90-minute concert. Jungr’s selection of songs touched upon the motifs of night and the bleak winter season when light is most absent. But this is the time when we need to dance despite the cold and darkness. Her repertoire included songs from her album Hard Rain, which will be released in March 2014, and songs from past collections, in addition to her explorations of the New American Songbook (writers post-Elvis).
This was my first time experiencing Jungr’s song stylization. The singer, who has been called one of the “best interpreters of the work of Bob Dylan” and “one of the best night club singers in the world,” is a proponent of expressing the lyrics so you “get them” and “see” the fullness of their meanings. There is absolutely no sloppiness of pronunciation nor vagaries of language. I finally was able to understand and appreciate the resonances of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and all of her Dylan numbers, because the word emphasis was clear and pointed, and as a result, the sound and meaning exploded with a beautiful fusion.
Critics are right about her interpretations. She took “He’s Not There” by Rod Argent and spun it past my old associations, clicking into other revelations about human deceit and trickery. She did the same exploring relationships and duplicity with Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue” and Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows.” She included “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache” by Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell after her own and Michael Parker’s “Till My Broken Heart Begins to Mend.” Other songs included “River” by Joni Mitchell, “I Saw the Light” by Todd Rundgren, “Lost on the River” by Hank Williams and “Will You Still Love me Tomorrow?” These and others she spun into her own unique renditions. The set was spontaneous, but its order seemed so appropriate.
Melancholy, sadness, heartbreak, loneliness – all are mirrored in the shadows and darkness of the night of the soul, the wintertime of emotional hazards. Barb Jungr’s voice, lilting and soft, gritty and hard, full-bodied, deep-throated and bell clear, was the instrument that stirred our hearts and touched us during this most fitting of seasons when we needed to dance and be uplifted through the days of scant light and long nights. And when the concert was finished, she surprised us with an encore of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” I and others went out into the streets humming tunes, our hearts dancing!