May 2014

Hard RainProtest Songs Still Relevant Today

Kristalyn Records KLCD1
Format: CD

Musical Performance

Sound Quality

Overall Enjoyment

Barb Jungr is an English singer-songwriter known as a chansonnière and cabaret performer. Though she has drawn from many different styles to fashion her arrangements, it's her singing of the songs of Bob Dylan that has made her famous. She recorded two albums for Linn Records that feature his songs, and even in albums devoted to other performers such as Elvis Presley, she has managed to slip in a song or two from Dylan.

In Hard Rain, recorded for Kristalyn Records, she has added songs by Leonard Cohen that she has performed live for some years. If you're crunching numbers, Dylan still comes out on top with six songs, whereas Cohen gets five. But I feel the Cohen songs trigger something very deep in Jungr's soul, and those titles receive once-in-a-lifetime performances of great intensity and passion.

Jungr says that she deliberately chose political and protest songs from the two writers because the things they said unfortunately still need to be said, injustice not having been cured. The CD opens and closes with two of Dylan's best-known songs, "Blowin' in the Wind" and "Chimes of Freedom." In between we get more Dylan with "Hard Rain," "Masters of War," "It's Alright Ma," and "Gotta Serve Somebody." These are all powerful statements, and Jungr sings them with dedicated enthusiasm. Though she has gone out of her way in the past to offer deliberately different interpretations and arrangements, she plays it pretty straight throughout this album. The biggest changes you'll notice are different tempos and the instrumentation -- piano, percussion, and bass, as well as shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and talking drum on a few cuts.

The Cohen songs were written later than those by Dylan, two of them coming from his 1988 album I'm Your Man. "First We Take Manhattan" is given a biting reading that makes one very aware of the words. "Everybody Knows" is a sarcastic indictment of the wrongs that everyone knows about, but that never seem to get solved. These are certainly still relevant at a time when power has been given back to banks and loan companies, who caused the economic problems in the first place.

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows

Other Cohen songs are "Land of Plenty," "1000 Kisses Deep," and "Who by Fire," for which Jungr puts on a more innocent, whispery voice addressing the possibilities of death:

And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the nighttime,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of May,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

Throughout this album, one is never aware that this is a "cover" set. Instead, the two songwriters are honored as inspired masters of their craft who have written lyrics and melodies that are simply outstanding in any book, and up to being performed by singers other than themselves, certainly one as astute and talented as Jungr.

The recording is excellent, the instruments properly balanced with each other and with Jungr's voice. Overall, this is a powerful and important album that will probably be considered when Grammy nominations are out once more. It releases May 27; you can get a sneak peak and listen by going to the production short here.

Be sure to listen to: The shakuhachi adds extra hurt and pain to "Masters of War," one of the most effectively scored songs on the album.

. . . Rad Bennett