Could Jake Bugg be the new Bob Dylan? We’ve heard that line before, but once we’ve experienced the creative, solid, diverse 14 tracks of his debut “Jake Bugg” CD, it’s hard not to go there.
Just released in the U.S. in April, this commendable collection opens with fast-paced, feel-good “Lightning Bolt.” An entertaining ditty about life’s unpredictability and taking chances, it careens along at full speed and is instantly likable. Its followup, “Two Fingers” has such wide appeal it’s easy imagining it performed with, or by, other artists. In short, another commendable track with staying power. And he’s only 19? Seriously?
The exuberant and kinetic “Taste It” has the same feeling as the opening track, and that ain’t a bad thing. Music with Bugg’s kind of energy is a breath of fresh air and sometimes hard to come by.
That’s not to say this young singer-songwriter from Nottingham, England, follows any kind of formula. His new release covers an array of topics via rockabilly (“Trouble Town”) quiet ballads (“Country Song,” “Broken,” “Someone Told Me”), and good ol’ Rock n’ roll (“Lightning Bolt” “Two Fingers” and “Seen It All”). Your favorite track may change from day to day, and it’s the kind of musical assortment you’ll want to keep on repeat.
For the rebel in us, there’s “Trouble Town” grabbing hold like some ancient, classic Elvis or Dylan song we somehow hadn’t heard yet. And – sure enough – “Trouble Town” does seem to have a bit of a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” feel to it. We can’t help but love a guy who comes up with lines like: “Stuck in Speedbump City / Where they only thing that’s pretty / Is the thought of gettin’ out,” and sings them with such carefree abandon.
“Country Song” is a lovely, heartfelt ballad we don’t quickly forget. Tender and touching vocals and acoustic guitar seem the perfect compliment to one another….leaving us wistfully wishing this little ditty weren’t quite so short. Oddly though perhaps wisely, it was used it as part of a national beer commercial by the UK’s Greene King IPA. The ad can be found on YouTube where it’s clear “Country Song” adds a touch of class to an otherwise mundane marketing effort.
Citing The Beatles and Buddy Holly as his early musical influences, Bugg was raised by musical parents who separated when he was young; he was first introduced to guitar by an uncle at the age of 12. At 15, despite his age he managed to play not only in his cousin’s band, but in a few pubs. Don McLean’s “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” was an early favorite.
His new release has been out a year in the U.K. where it entered the charts at number one, displacing Mumford & Sons. But fame hasn’t gone to his head. When asked in a recent Denmark interview how he reacted to the chart-topping news, Bugg told the journalist he called a few family members and friends, “then went back to sleep.” A little more history: two years ago young Mr. Bugg was invited to perform at the Glastonbury Festival in England. It was that performance that led to his current contract with Mercury, and he’ll be playing Glastonbury again this summer.
The somber and cynical “Ballad of Mr. Jones” sings a tale of justice and reprisal; it’s a dark, bluesy arrangement with a spooky vibe that almost harkens back to some of the grainier sounds of 60’s era bands. Its musical counterpoints are Bugg singing about unrequited love on the acoustic and melancholy “Someone Told Me,” or, his absolutely stunning vocal delivery on the disconsolate “Broken.” Both are impressive examples of his ability to deliver musical diversity in ways that seem so natural and effortless. It’s a “bet your bottom dollar” kind of thing we’ll be hearing some of these songs on future TV shows and movie soundtracks.
“Timeless” sums it up
Is Bugg a troubled misfit rock n’ roller, or a soulful, searching musical troubadour? We best let time be the judge of that. What’s for sure: we haven’t enjoyed a new release quite this much since Grammy contenders The Lumineers released their debut last year.
There are many selections here that could easily get radio airplay or hit the charts on Billboard, but perhaps one that’ll tug some heartstrings on this remarkable debut comes towards the last. “Note to Self”- written with Iain Archer, who’s played with Gary Lightbody and Snow Patrol – is one of the simplest, prettiest, most honest love songs we’ve heard in a long time. Bugg urges his downcast girl to write a note of encouragement to herself and pop it in the mail: “Put it in the post / It’ll come back to your door / And read the note to yourself.” Tempo and arrangement showcase Bugg’s lilting vocals and endearing accent, hitting this one out of the ballpark.
Note To Self
The finale to the album is a song called “Fire,” originally a demo Bugg recorded on his iPhone. It’s a short but sweet track in which Bugg seems to channel Buddy Holly. “Timeless” is probably the best word to describe this stuff.
Upcoming concert dates
Jake Bugg has several U.S. performances scheduled for later this year. Locales include Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Atlanta – but no Pacific Northwest dates have been announced so far.
Your laggardly local Target or Best Buy probably aren’t carrying “Jake Bugg” just yet, but you can listen to his music online at Amazon and iTunes, or visit his website www.jakebugg.com , which is currently offering a free download of his song “Saffron.”