Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan & Leonard Cohen
Many singers have dipped into the Dylan songbook, but none as deeply or masterfully as Britain’s Barb Jungr. As Jungr has often recounted, around the dawn of the new millennium she heard a voice inside her head insisting, “You must sing the songs of Bob Dylan.” She hasn’t stopped since, devoting two entire albums—2002’s Every Grain of Sand and 2011’s Man in the Long Black Coat—to Dylan works and even managing to insert his songs into her album-length tributes to Nina Simone and Elvis Presley. Here she broadens her Dylan repertoire with six selections she’s never previously covered, interweaving them with five compositions by Leonard Cohen, among the few modern songwriters whose poetic brilliance exceeds Dylan’s.
Jungr is often classified as a cabaret singer, largely due to her history as a chansonnière and key player in London’s Alternative Cabaret Circuit of the 1970s. Her early recordings, including the first Dylan album, were indeed dotted with clever cabaret flourishes. She has, however, since emerged as a true jazz vocalist, with a strong, starkly beautiful voice that commands attention.
Wisely, she appreciates that Dylan and Cohen material—here represented by a potent olio that extends from “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Chimes of Freedom” and the title track to “Everybody Knows,” “Who by Fire” and “First We Take Manhattan”—needs no adornment. The songs, most dark, all densely imaginative, unspool like perfectly crafted short films. Jungr is the unobtrusive auteur, fully realizing their intensity.