The pairing of work by Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen in a single recital is a logical move. Though the latter died five years ago, his and his old friend’s songs go on and on. (Some of them for ten minutes and more.) It can take a bold talent to pick up some of these sublime, enigmatic things and deliver them as cabaret items.
Barb Jungr does just that and the result is absorbing. Tempting to say her performance is a triumph of manner over matter since her sheer theatricality is in contrast to the stanza-upon-stanza progress of some of the songs’ narratives. But that would be to ignore her making of such common cause, such intimacy with the lyrics’, and the tunes’ emotional hearts.
Sometimes, as when she is introducing the 1976 song “Isis,” allegedly about Dylan’s ex-wife Sara and their marriage, she admits to being flummoxed by it. She is in good company – us, and, perhaps, also, the author. It was after all written in the wreckage of a passionate relationship, when resources of logic and ordered words were perhaps at a low ebb. No matter; what’s evolving here, and throughout the programme of eight songs, is a knowing, even larky partnership between a skilled trouper from Rochdale (yes, where Gracie Fields also came from) and material descended from deep in the last century’s American, hence also British, folk tradition.
“It will be a challenging evening,” warns Jungr at the start. “For all of us,” Not to mention for her accompanying pianist Jenny Carr, who sensitively shares the responsibility for re-presenting these transatlantic works with the dramatic confiding of a European chanson. Worth noting here that Jungr’s immigrant parents were a Czech scientist and a German nurse.
“We’re drilling down to the bottom of things,” she goes on, explaining that the songs are “an exploration of love by two men who have experienced every type of feeling.” They – the two men in question – are as good as her word as she kicks off with Dylan’s sardonic “Love is Just a Four-Letter Word,” and then, as if to remind us that it’s all a bit more complex than that, Cohen’s amorous elegy “So Long Marianne.”
“What Happens to the Heart” (Cohen) is one of the highlights, as Jungr makes the words of the title shuttle between statement and question. While introducing the numbers, as you would a friend, she speaks of their place in her life as though they are not just companions but also fellow confessors. None more so than the evening’s title track “Forgetful Heart,” one of those songs in which Dylan is having nothing to do with complex imagery and, in disarming himself, does likewise to the listener. “I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain. The door has closed forevermore, if indeed there was a door.”
The other day, when Dylan turned eighty, there was (yet another) explosion of love for his enormous and forever-sung back catalogue. Back in the Sixties, when God and Bob were young, and Len’s voice was starting to plumb the
depths of passion’s canyons, a rallying mantra of, among others, students and feminists, was that the personal is political. Like the songs, it could be taken in a number of ways, and duly was.
Strange to see such an essentially live performance as this on Zoom. Like technically inferior if more personalised TV. Tantalising, better than nothing, likely shades of the new normal. What this evening of hard-lived classics, and their forever-Jungr singer, restate all these decades on is that the private is international. Or something like that.
Review by Alan Frank
Working with her longstanding collaborator Jenny Carr, Barb includes ‘Forgetful Heart’, ‘What Happens To The Heart’,
‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’, ‘I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You’, ‘So Long Marianne’, ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’
and ‘Dance Me To The End of Love’ among more treasures.
Forgetful Heart: Dylan and Cohen and Love
Friday 18 June, 2021 at 7pm live from The Crazy Coqs
Instagram Barb Jungr