Barb Jungr

Clarendon Guesthouse, June 16Jungr Barb 33419 Pizza Exp. Dean St. London 1.11 (1)

This time Barb Jungr had the best accompanist she has brought to Australia: Simon Wallace. How important is the accompanist for a singer’s performance? Imagine trying to paint with a lumpy canvas. That’s how important.

Wallace was Jungr’s co-songwriter, arranger and producer on last year’s Stockport To Memphis CD, so came at the material from the inside, so to speak. Yet where that album was often overproduced to some degree, live he exhibited flawless instincts for stripping back the songs.

And this is where Jungr’s real strength lies: scalpelling her way under our skin with the rawest moments of her saddest songs, and then reviving us with another dose of the ‘tween-song smelling salts that are her hilarious stories.

Hank Williams’ Lost On The River exemplified how well-suited the pair were to starkness and slow tempos, with Jungr letting her voice crack a little on the softest notes; cracks that became open wounds. Neil Young’s Old Man had piano notes dropping like flakes of snow around the words, and then a sudden gust of warmth from Jungr’s harmonica in the middle, like opening the door into a warm pub on a bitter night.

At the other end of the scale her gender-changed She’s Not There sparkled with fun as it rode on Wallace’s rollicking accompaniment, and she brought a certain rambunctiousness to Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows that shed fresh light on the whole song.

Proving her versatility she sang Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole with more of a dangerous edge than is her wont, and then showed her ultimate class on Sam Cooke’s anthemic Change Is Gonna Come, which she and Wallace stripped naked and made utterly compelling.

Some of the originals, by contrast, felt laboured. They are not bad songs in themselves, but in the rarefied company of Dylan, Cohen, Waits, Cooke et al they often came as anticlimaxes to the wonderful little stories she told by way of introductions.