It’s hard to talk about Jake Bugg’s sound without doing some A-class name dropping. No sooner had his first self-titled release hit the airwaves just over a year ago than the comparisons to Dylan, Simon, and Gallagher began to flood in. They’re worthy comparisons to be sure, and Bugg neither minds or ignores them, nor does he allow them to completely define or pigeonhole his own sound.
On his sophomore release, Bugg adds a strong set of new material that offers new insight to other influences (Elvis Costello, Nick Drake, and even Woody Guthrie come to mind) while also showcasing a wider depth of musical ability. Punk, blues, and rockabilly all get respectable airspace on the record as do other more subtle and nuanced sounds (there’s a particularly 90’s grunge rock influence in “Messed Up Kids”; also can’t miss that 60’s Laurel Canyon sound in “Kitchen Table”).
Though this strong sonic framework provides the perfect platform for Bugg’s frank lyrics and plaintive voice, there’s already a lot happening on the record and the true weight of his words can get lost in the shuffle. Three tracks– quite possibly some of the most biting storytelling of the entire album– are posted up and gulped down in the first 8 minutes, leaving the listener to wander around, searching for musical balance in a hangover-like state wondering what it was that just whizzed by him. Save for one or two tracks later on, the album keeps a fairly level pace from then on.
Given Bugg’s working-class roots and rough upbringing, this front-loaded, shotgun sprint of an opening is understandable, and on second and third reviews, the stories are made more clear. “Didn’t disappoint you / Didn’t want to make you sad / Given all the choices / Good’s given from the bad.” At 19 Bugg has had a lifetime of experiences both good and bad, and thematic musical balance isn’t at the top of his priorities.
Even as his sound echoes that of the greats of modern music, his stories and his delivery are very much his own. Just as is should be.
Jake Bugg – Shangri La
Island Records, 2013
Listen Now: “Kitchen Table,” “Slumville Sunrise,” “Pine Trees”