CD REVIEWS: Stockport to Memphis

The Telegraph 15 December 2012
Barb Jungr's Stockport to Memphis is a "favourite jazz vocal album of the year" for Ivan Hewitt - press clipping »

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Barb Jungr - Stockport to Memphis
FATEA Nov 2012

As a vocalist, Barb Jungr is difficult to classify. Variously described as a chansonniere, a cabaret singer, a musical theatre lyricist and composer, a jazz and blues singer, on this album she also reveals herself as a soul diva, soft-gospel singer and mean player of the blues harp! This is not a jazz album - but her singing style is invariably coloured by jazz intonation, improvised phrasing and effortless note bending, as she sings her way through a set of soul, rock and country standards and self-penned songs. The tunes are given coherence by the album's autobiographical thread, as Jungr takes a "metaphorical journey" from her Cheshire birthplace to Memphis (where she has never actually been, but which was the source of her teenage musical influences!). Her own five compositions provide the bones of this journey, whilst the covers add flesh and colour to the tale.

Barb's singing style is very English, with a clear intonation and precise diction, which means that sometimes she sounds rather prim and soulless, especially on Sam Cooke's 'Change is Gonna Come' or Joni Mitchell's 'River' (think Joan Biaz singing soul!). But don't let this put you off - Jungr's readings of these and other songs reveal depths of meaning and emotion that other versions of these tunes often submerge in production! Jungr's vocal range is considerable; though she may be losing some of the top end with age, and struggles with the low notes on 'S(he's) Not There', she deploys her vocal skills with enormous effect. Mike Scott's 'Fisherman Blues' is given a warm-toned and soulful treatment, with excellent piano from producer Simon Wallace. Barb's own 'Till My Broken Heart Begins to Mend' is a bluesy pop tune complete with swirling organ, gutsy harmonica, pizzicato strings and a sixties-style backing group. Hank William's 'Lost on the River' becomes a gently gospel solo with just piano accompaniment. It is followed by an equally soul-inspired arrangement of Tom Waits' 'Way Down in the Hole', which plays the song as a soft, jazzy gospel number with just piano and mallets on drums. This forms the rather sombre and low-key climax of Barb's journey, and forms an interesting contrast with the sixties R'n'b of the opening title track, making the whole story of this album even more poignant and thought-provoking.

Overall, then, this is an intriguing and frequently engaging album, with stand out tracks being Neil Young's 'Old Man', 'River' and Jungr's own 'Urban Fox' and 'Till My Broken Heart ….'. With the understated and sensitive arrangements and brilliant use of the soul/jazz vocal backing trio of Mari Wilson, Ian Shaw and Sarah Moule, this is a class recording, which will appeal to all fans of straight vocal style.
Martin Price

Barb Jungr - Stockport to Memphis
Daily Telegraph 27.10.12 - Ivan Hewett 

Some Jazz singers want to appear knowing and sophisticated. Barb Jungr isn't like that;she just wants to get to the heart of the song, and if it means wearing her own heart on her sleeve at times, that's just fine.

On this album she's included some of her own songs, which include the wonderfully earthy title track.

These are touching in there way, but it's the songs from Neil Young, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell and others which bring out the best in her.

Barb Jungr: Stockport to Memphis (2012)
By JOHN EYLES, Published: October 24, 2012

Since her breakthrough Chanson: The Space in Between (Linn, 2000), vocalist Barb Jungr has mainly released albums of songs by other people. Several have focused on the work of one performer, notablyEvery Grain of Sand (Linn, 2002), consisting of Bob Dylan songs, the Elvis Presley tribute Love Me Tender(Linn, 2005) and Just Like a Woman—A Hymn to Nina... Barb Jungr Sings Nina Simone (Linn, 2008). Others, such as The Men I Love: The New American Songbook (Naim, 2010), have been albums of Jungr's favorite contemporary songs.

Successful as those albums have been, collectively they have shifted the spotlight from Jungr's own songwriting, although a few of her post-2000 albums included Jungr compositions. On Stockport to Memphis, she tilts the balance back towards her compositions, while still featuring songs by her favorite songwriters. In the process, she has delivered an album that is more autobiographical and personal than any mentioned above.

There has long been a confessional, autobiographical element to Jungr's between-song chats to live audiences. Here, songs such as "Stockport to Memphis" and "New Life" reflect that side of her, focusing on her family history as well as capturing the excitement and vulnerability of a young woman leaving home. The lyrics of "New Life" eloquently convey that:

"When I waved goodbye to Stockport with a pirouette and song and I took the bus to Manchester and danced the whole night long Bought a ticket into Euston, said goodbye to everyone and my heart was set on Beale Street and a new life had begun."

Accompanied by Mark Armstrong's muted trumpet, with a brief Simon Wallace piano solo, the track is exquisitely nostalgic.

Compared to those two songs, the album's other Jungr compositions evoke strong emotions just as well, although they do not have their autobiographical detail. So, "Urban Fox"—about the animal of the title—works at two levels, one literal, and one metaphorical. "Till My Broken Heart Begins to Mend," with fine harmonica from Jungr herself, does justice to the song's title.

As ever, Jungr's voice, phrasing and emphasis nail the essence of each song, making its meaning felt as much as heard. This is as true on others' songs as on her own. Of course, the album includes a Dylan song—"Lay Lady Lay," this time around given a tender reading with the entire band in top form, notably Wallace on atmospheric Hammond organ. Two other songs—Joni Mitchell's "River" and Hank Williams' "Lost on the River"—were key parts of Jungr's River set which she toured in 2010-11; both are superbly performed, benefitting from having been honed in front of live audiences. Other highlights—in an album full of them—include The Zombies classic "(S)he's Not There," given a subtle gender change, and Neil Young's "Old Man," which Jungr (born 1954) says she now appreciates more from the viewpoint of its subject than its writer. As this album demonstrates, she is maturing like fine wine.

Barb Jungr - Stockport to Memphis
London Jazz October 24th, 2012

(Naim naimcd179. CD Review by Chris Parker)

Barb Jungr has always been celebrated as one of the jazz world’s most skilful and accomplished song-interpreters, burnishing everything from Ray Davies’s ‘Waterloo Sunset’ to the Monkees’ ‘Last Train to Clarksville’ to their original pristine glow courtesy of her scrupulous attention to their subtlest nuance. She is perhaps less famous for her own songwriting, however, so this album, which contains four songs Jungr has co-written with pianist Simon Wallace, is particularly welcome.

The feisty title-track is both a perfect opener and a succinct and witty summing up of Jungr’s musical journey (see this YOU TUBE CLIP for a fascinating first-hand account), and her other originals are similarly affecting, more than worthy of taking their place alongside such established classics as Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ (here given a typically sensitive reading emphasising the painful nature of the wait as much as the determined anticipation of change), Neil Young’s touching ‘Old Man’, Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, Joni Mitchell’s wistful, self-deprecating ‘River’ et al.

Featuring a supremely adaptable, sparky band (including drummer Rod Youngs, bassist Neville Malcolm and stellar background vocalists Sarah Moule and Ian Shaw), and intelligently programmed so that the whole can be experienced like a carefully prepared live set, this is a wholly enjoyable album, immediately accessible but thoughtful and considered enough to richly reward repeated listening.

Barb Jungr
Stockport to Memphis
Naim jazz ****

People who like and even love jazz, despite what a few purists think, actually like other music “as well as” the word with four letters rather than, in curmudgeon-speak, “instead of” it, as if they’re giving up being a member of a club that they don’t actually have to be a member of in the first place. Well, Barb Jungr is a singer who many jazz people really like and work with, and it’s not at all surprising as there is an integrity, musicality and liveliness about what she does although she couldn’t really be called a jazz singer, her music just runs parallel to it. She can take the odd wrong turn though and I personally did not warm much to her Dylan or Elvis albums, but completely agree that her forte is in chanson or related material of which she is a subtle and knowledgeable interpreter. Certainly, she has a strong reputation in this area, but her eclecticism I suppose means that people who like her approach dip in and out depending on the angle she chooses for her latest project.

Produced by pianist Simon Wallace who also performs on the album and a collective personnel of Rod Youngs on drums, Neville Malcolm double bass, Jenny Carr, piano, Natalie Rozario cello, backing vocals from Mari Wilson, Ian Shaw and Sarah Moule, Gary Hammond percussion, Mark Armstrong trumpet, and Roddy Matthews guitar, there is a broad selection of well known songs presented here with five originals Barb has co-written, including the title track partly referencing the town she grew up in, although the Memphis bit is a little more complicated but all is explained in the title song.

These days when it’s fashionable for singers to project at the tops of their voices it’s refreshing to hear a singer who doesn’t sing as if she’s yelling to quell the racket all the drinkers at the bar might be making. OK, the downside might be it can be too cosy, but that’s not really Jungr’s way. ‘River’ for instance is very unJoni-like, and sometimes on whatever the material she chooses the approach of someone like Sandy Denny springs to mind instead as a sort of benign presence.

Jungr’s strength is the way she narrates a song, gently leading you in for a fulfilling dialogue in song, maybe involving, maybe not; autobiographical perhaps, like ‘New Life’, or more out on a limb as on the passionate ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the best cover song on the album for me because of the light and shade, and the way she loses herself in the material.

Other songs include Neil Young’s ‘Old Man’, Dylan’s ‘Lay Lady Lay’, Hank Williams’ ‘Lost on the River’, but it’s the new songs that are interesting as well, particularly ‘Urban Fox’, a wonderful metaphorical lyric, and quietly dark with it. A great late-night listen. Stephen Graham