Right now, a troubled world needs Barb Jungr to sing it better.
After two police shootings, most recently what appears to be an unjustified killing of a cooperative citizen in Minnesota (Philando Castile), Jungr’s healing voice on her new album seems both timely and timeless.
Doesn’t matter the style of music, her voice rises up from the depths of despair to indeed provide hope for troubled times. Shelter From The Storm: Songs Of Hope For Troubled Times came out just this March, but already it has hit a nerve as racial tensions rise on social media.
Shelter From The Storm is a timely, compassion-filled follow-up to the last, effective album, the March 24, 2014 release of Hard Rain. In Hard Rain, the British vocal bombshell asserts her own inimitable, vulnerable style to some signature anthems of both Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. In lesser hands, these covers could easily have been reduced to amateur hour on another pointless Thursday night jam session.
But Jungr, a critically acclaimed, fearless powerhouse of a vocalist, wears her heart on her sleeve come what may. Her voice follows, perfectly imperfect, somehow holding onto a flurry of impossible notes, far-fetched standards, never cracking with the genuine effort. The three musicians backing and elevating her are also superlative, with pianist/arranger Laurence Hobgood spinning out his own compelling solos. Bassist Michael Olatuja and percussionist Wilson Torres follow suit.
They differentiate themselves ably on another batch of memorable standards, pop covers and classics from the Great American Songbook, and a few odds and ends. From “Bali Hai,” “Something’s Coming,” and “Life On Mars?/Space Oddity,” to “Sisters Of Mercy,” “Woodstock,” and a fantastic Jimi Hendrix/Peter Gabriel mash-up in the “All Along The Watchtower/In Your Eyes” medley, Jungr and her band carve out their own niche, while providing aid and comfort to anyone who listens.
“Venus Rising,” an original tune by Jungr and Hobgood, benefits from both their voices. Hobgood’s piano solo strains to be heard above the rest, broaching the line of imaginative prototype. It’s a highlight of the song, along with vocals that cling to the nostalgia of the past and every beloved passing. Somehow not at all romantic as the title would suggest but encompassing more of a universal kind of love, in the remembrances of kindred souls. When Jungr sings, “The air is humming,” so is she, with the cadence and the dynamics to threaten a new standard for everyone’s generation.
Another fantastic save on piano arrives in the entirely deconstructed “Woodstock,” where Jungr takes the song from another time and delivers it to everyone now. Her version is completely different from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s hit, originally written by Joni Mitchell and found on her 1970 Ladies Of The Canyon album.
“Something’s Coming,” slowly digesting Latin beats like an awakening giant, is vaguely familiar until Jungr reminds everyone this first came out in the popular Broadway musical-turned-movie spectacular, “West Side Story,” the less-popular song out of a hit parade. She repossesses the time- and couple-specific piece for a broader mindset on her vocal showmanship alone.
You can have your Grammy-nominated has-beens and wannabe also-rans trying desperately to stake a claim off the hard rain of other established composers from the Great American Songbook, pop and beyond.
Most discriminating listeners will take Barb Jungr’s age of enlightenment any time.