In our review of Barb Jungr’s last CD, Hard Rain, we noted that she was probably more of an interpreter than a jazz singer. That album featured the songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and Dylan’s songs have featured heavily in her back catalogue. The new album, Shelter From The Storm – whilst named after a Dylan song – is quite different in emphasis. The album was recorded in New York, rather than the UK, and saw her working and writing with Laurence Hobgood, a jazz pianist and arranger best known for his long collaboration with Kurt Elling.
The album still features a number of covers of classic singer-songwriters, including Dylan, Cohen, Mitchell and Bowie, so there’s plenty for her existing fans to enjoy, but she also includes three of her own compositions, all written in conjunction with Hobgood.
The Dylan and Cohen covers are, as one has come to expect from Jungr, quite superb. The title track featured on Blood On The Tracks, one of the many highpoints of Dylan’s long career. It opens with her singing over a cool bass line by English bass player Michael Olatuja, before Hobgood comes in, contributing some fine piano and a highly effective arrangement. Sisters Of Mercy, from Cohen’s debut album, is even better, opening with a delicate piano introduction, and eventually giving way to an unexpected Latin arrangement. But my favourite was All Along The Watchtower, which she sings to the melody of Peter Gabriel’s In Your Eyes. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does, and yet again, she succeeds in making the song her own.
Not all of the covers work so well. Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock starts slowly, but soon becomes funky, with Hobgood playing keyboard as well as piano. Life On Mars?/Space Oddity was obviously recorded before the sad news that Bowie had passed away, but the cabaret-style arrangement sounded out of place with the remainder of the album.
Something’s Coming, a Bernstein tune from West Side Story, with it’s Latin-percussion, courtesy of a Wilson Torres, and spare piano line, was far better, with Jungr’s vocal a delight.
But perhaps the biggest surprise on Shelter is the quality of Jungr’s own compositions. Stars Lazy But Shining is a straight-ahead jazz tune, and could easily pass for a classic from the American songbook, whilst Venus Rising is less jazzy, but fits with the other singer-songwriter material on the album. Hymn To Nina, as the name suggests, is a heartfelt tribute to Nina Simone, and is the pick of the bunch – all the more effective because Jungr does not try to mimic Simone’s unique style, but sings about what Nina meant to her.
I was probably expecting more of a traditional jazz vocal album, given Hobgood’s involvement, but for the most part, Jungr plays to her strengths here. The partnership with the pianist works well, not only in terms of his musicianship and arrangements, but also in the contributions to her own writing. Hopefully we’ll hear more of Jungr’s own songs next time around.
Release Date: 19 February 2016