Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jungr’s Men

The genre-defying Barbara Jungr has written songs for children’s puppetry plays and regularly covers the work of Bob Dylan. Finally, someone is making cabaret hip and interesting. Admittedly, interpretations of the Great American Songbook can always be fresh and rewarding. However, Jungr greatly expands the field of play, including songwriters like Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen into a very accessible mix for her latest CD, The Men I Love and in her live shows this week at the Metropolitan Room in Manhattan’s fashionable Flatiron district.

When it comes to bold choices for cabaret repertoire, Jungr’s opening rendition of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Once in a Lifetime” undoubtedly qualifies. Yet, it proves to be a surprisingly amenable vehicle for her, thanks in large part to the lovely arrangement she and accompanist Simon Wallace penned, strikingly integrating Frank Schaefer’s cello and Clive Bell’s shakuhachi flute into the familiar Talking Heads hit. Though the tempo is slower and the atmosphere is more hushed, Jungr’s smooth delivery of the thorny lyrics is still quite impressive.

By contrast, the cabaret possibilities of the Leonard Cohen songbook are readily apparent. Indeed, Jungr’s treatment of “Night Comes On” is sensitive and powerful. Given her jazz and blues influences, it is not surprising she shows an affinity for Northern Soul on the appropriately soulful “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache” that features a nice, if brief, jazz-like solo from Wallace.

Wallace’s funky piano also gives the up-tempo version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” a slightly honky-tonk vibe that seems to channel the country side of Dylan. A shrewd choice, it also shows cabaret can indeed be fun, at least when performed with the vigor and range Jungr brings to bear on the Byrds hit. Conversely, Springsteen’s “The River” might be the one ill-advised repertory choice of the set. While the Jersey rocker has written some monster hits, he has also produced quite a few songs that are more maudlin than memorable, as is the case with this tune.

In fitting cabaret style, two of Men’s highpoints are the seamlessly fused medleys: “Can’t Get Used to Losing You/Red, Red Wine” (combining the Doc Pomus and Neil Diamond songbooks) and “This Old Heart of Mine/Love Hurts,” amalgamations that deliver the big emotional show-stopping moments that should satisfy cabaret enthusiasts. Yet the intimacy and brittle delicacy of “Everything I Own” really delivers the goods for devotees of the vocal genre.

Jungr’s Men is an artfully crafted, contemporary sounding session that ought to satisfy both coffeehouse hipsters and the tony cabaret set. A stirring program of standards broadly defined, it should not be pigeonholed by genre or choice of repertoire. For the full effect, Jungr’s live performances can be experienced through Sunday (5/23) at the Metropolitan Room.

(Photo: Steve Ullathorne)