Bob, Brel and Me is the latest album by the genre-defying singer and songwriter, Barb Jungr. After an album of songs by Sting (Float Like A Butterfly, 2018 – recorded with John McDaniel – Barb has returned to jazzier ground, working with some of the finest musicians around – Jamie Safir on piano/organ, Jenny Carr on piano and accordion, Mark Lockheart on saxophone, Pete Horsfall on trumpet, Davide Mantovani on bass and Rod Youngs on drums. And while we’re on the subject, Gabriella Swallow appears on cello, and there’s an appearance by The Fourth Choir, a London-based LQBTQ ensemble.
Barb is back on familiar, but fascinating ground with Bob. Surely there are no better interpreters of the Dylan songbook out there. The idea of her also interpreting Brel is a truly mouth-watering prospect. It turns out Brel was a regular part of her repertoire many years ago, and a number of her fans had asked when she would return to his songs. And so the idea of the new album began to take shape.
Let’s start with Dylan. Hard to believe, but Mr. Tambourine Man swings here, in a fabulous new arrangement by Jenny Carr, who plays piano here. Barb's voice in fine fettle, and as always, her read on the lyrics is spot-on. A special mention to Mark Lockheart, too, whose saxophone lends fine support throughout.
Buckets Of Rain is perhaps one of the lesser-known tunes from Blood On The Tracks, and is slowed down here in a new arrangement by Jamie Safir, who plays organ, with Jenny Carr switching to accordion. Barb’s interpretation brings out more emotion than the original, bringing additional meaning to the tune, as she so often does.
One Too Many Mornings is taken far from the original folk of The Times They Are A-Changin’, with a bluesy, horn-driven arrangement, which features solos by Barb herself, on harmonica, and Mark Lockheart on saxophone.
I was not convinced by the upbeat, jazzy read of Simple Twist Of Fate, but This Wheel’s On Fire is fantastic, as good a version as you’ll ever hear.
Turning to Brel, the first thing to note is that these versions are based on a new translation by Robb Johnson, who brings a songwriter’s ear to the complex wordplay, and a suitably smutty French-English dictionary!
As a consequence of this, another fine arrangement by Jenny Carr, and Barb’s keen ear for the poetry of Brel’s lyrics, Jacky sounds fresh and original – far removed from Scott Walker’s fine interpretation, and entirely her own. The Tender Hearts, a song I’d not heard before, is even better. Barb wrings every ounce of emotion from the lyrics, and there’s some gorgeous playing by the excellent Pete Horsfall on muted trumpet. A special mention, too, for the fine backing vocals by Mike Lindup and Christoph Bracher, which add some great atmospherics to the close. The Cathedral, a particularly challenging tune, is another highlight, with Barb bringing all of her experience to the poetry of the lyrics. Poignant stuff.
Last, but not least, Barb Jung has delivered the finest collection of her own tunes to date. The album opens with the swinging, mini big-band sound of Rise & Shine, which was composed with Mike Lindup. The opening, couplet, “rise and shine, the morning after wine”, sets the tone, and what follows does not disappoint. A great way to start the album.
Sometimes opens with some atmospheric, Smitty-style trumpet from Horsfall, which leads into a superb late night lyric and vocal by Barb, the song co-written with Jonathan Cooper on this occasion. But the highlight is an old song written with Michael Parker, No-One Could Ever Wear Your Shoes, which sends shivers down the spine. It’s that good.
Barb Jungr considers this album her finest recording, and she’s right. She’s perhaps best known for her interpretations of the songs of some of the great songwriters – Dylan, Cohen, and now Brel. But hear she demonstrates she can write with the best of them. “I may not make another album,” she declares in the press release. Hopefully she said that the morning after wine.