jason stives goes across the pond …
When you hear about teen prodigy musicians in the press, it’s at the expense of some lame music competition on television or at the behest of some overzealous critic (ahem, I’ll eat those words later). So when I heard about English singer/songwriter Jake Bugg this past fall, my cons outweighed pros simply on expectation. However, upon hearing the powering rockabilly sound of his first single “Lightning Bolt,” it’s obvious this is a kid who is both clever and wise beyond his years, but not because he has seen it all. What could a 19 year old kid really have experienced at such a young age? The answer lies in his catchy and highly entertaining self titled debut, which sees its official US release this week.
Let’s start with the crown jewel of this record; the anthematic and angsty “Two Fingers,” where Jake howls about drinking white lightning, and domestic abuse in his working class neighborhood of Nottingham. He waves a giant middle finger and a cigarette or two at being a teen in the techno babble 2010s by being blunt, at times abrasive, and a bit cynical. Bugg, who channels heroes like Bob Dylan and Donovan, displays melancholy and optimism despite heaving a lot of aggression at his jangling guitar licks. Certain songs like the cannonball blasting “Taste It” rattle through your speakers, while subdued English folk tracks like “Country Song” and “Slide” move your emotions like watching a western sky at night, or (from his geographical location), a bright northern one.
At this point this sounds like the rantings of someone who caved to a wall of hype, but if you have ever had a friend searching for a voice through his instrument and his often troubled thoughts, then it’s easy to relate to this young man’s songwriting. I don’t know much about Bugg’s background but it sounds like despite probably getting in a teenage squabble or two he is constantly in a state of love and trust which both seem to have tragic results. “Seen it All” describes a night gone abruptly wrong where as “Broken” aches with loneliness and longing, a combination that he sings like a bitter pill has taken all the fun out of him.
His music isn’t all rejection and sadness; when he bursts out with a track like the country tinged “Trouble Town” or the haunting ghost town thumping of “Ballad of Mr. Jones,” Bugg lifts himself out of a scrawny teen image into an aged soul reminiscent of Johnny Cash. I can spare this review of a hyperbole but not of glowing love for this young man’s honest work as a young singer/songwriter. Jake Bugg may be a tough sell to those who struggle to believe that someone who is barely 20 has something meaningful to say, but remember how much of a bitch it was being a teen, and conveying feelings only came out in short spurts of anger and restlessness? Think about that and you will find your younger self through Jake Bugg’s music.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Outstanding)