Barb Jungr: Chanson – Crazy Coqs, London

Reviewer: Sonny Waheed

“These are songs of Death. Love. Death, Death, Death. A little bit of love. Death. And love.” So introduces Barb Jungr to her repertoire of Chanson songs, specifically Chanson Réaliste, as typified by Edith Piaf and Marie Dubas, and Nouvelle Chanson, a more modern evolution akin to Serge Gainsbourg and Coralie Clement.

In Jungr’s selection, the core focus is the work of Jacques Brel, although it features a few original songs from Robb Johnson and, surprisingly, an Elvis Costello song too. But the songs are all based on the French lyric-driven Chanson music style.

With lyrics being such a core part of Chanson music, Jungr has opted to sing all songs in English, with each of the translations personally chosen, and many specifically commissioned. “Translation [of songs] is not about the accuracy, it’s about the poetry”, she justifies.

Jungr, by her own admission, has been performing music for over 50 years. And you can tell. Firstly, she is supremely comfortable on stage. Her performances are interspersed with humour-tinged short stories and anecdotes that help set the scene or explain the narrative of the song to follow. She is in complete control of her voice which is significantly more powerful than one first anticipates. She kicks off the show with Brel’s Tender Hearts and her voice feels like an American 60’s folk singer, and almost frail. But as she works through her collection, we hear that her voice has an immense power, more associated with soul or gospel music. But Jungr doesn’t do vocal theatrics for the sake of it. The lyric and the storytelling are key to her performance.

Jenny Carr’s accompaniment on the piano is perfectly balanced. She makes the piano sound so full that you are not aware of any other instrumentation missing. At times the piano is almost like a second singer in a duet with Jungr. But with this stripped-down production, focus is naturally drawn to the lyric and Jungr’s ability to beautifully and emotionally articulate the story within the song.

Barb Jungr’s Chanson is not just a celebration of a music genre, it’s a truly wonderful celebration of the art of lyric-driven songwriting. While she is in the spotlight, the real star of the show is the songwriter and, in this particular case, the translator.

This is a show for anyone interested in contemporary music and songwriting. It is a lesson in how songs can tell a story with more impact than words alone and it is a stunning showcase of the power of a voice as a synchronised messenger rather than standalone showboating.

Reviewed on 31 March 2023

The Reviews Hub Score

Powerful and emotional

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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