Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Jake Bugg Sings It Up With Shangri La

Jake Bugg
By the time the debut LP from British folk-rock sensation Jake Bugg was released in the United States last year, it had already wrangled a peak position on the charts in the United Kingdom. The rebellious and relentless nature of his songwriting, guitar work, and listenable but imperfect vocal presence was a riveting combination from an 18-year-old out of Clifton (south of Nottingham).

His sophomore album, Shangri La, won't be nearly as loved despite the decision to record with Rick Rubin. While the new album has great moments, some of the charm seems lost as the seasoned musicians that he has been teamed up with sometimes play for themselves more than Bugg, leaving the road-tested live sessions more accessible than the studio work.

That's not to say the second album has been put out too soon per se or is sub par. The 12 new tracks work hard to expand the singer-songwriter's range in ways that the debut never did. It works extraordinary well most of the time, especially on occasions when he demonstrates more confidence.

Shangri La sets up Jake Bugg at a career crossroads. 

Shangri La wastes no time establishing that no one wants to hide the sometimes nasal qualities of Bugg's vocal distinction. The first three tracks accentuate the prickly nature of it when he aims to pick up the pace.

He does exactly that on the opener, There's A Beast And We Feed It. It's a fast-paced Twitter ditty that immortalizes the service with some folk-rock sentiment that leans toward disdain. And, he does it brilliantly in about 140 seconds (mirroring the 140 character limit). The lyrics cut to the heart of it.

"Somehow we'd better speak it. We're scared someone will tweet it. It's on the wall but you won't read it. It's gone before you see it. We all dread to repeat it. There's a beast eating every bit of beauty. And yes we all feed it."

The tone continues almost seamlessly in the verse of Slumville Sunrise until he drops it down into a range that makes him as listenable as his lyrics are relevant. The track is a down-and-out rocker, drawing upon the best elements of vintage folk rock and an uncanny capacity for bluesman acceptance.

There is no question that the song resonates with the way plenty of people feel right now. There are people who want to spread their wings but find themselves waiting in them instead.

The track is followed up by the more popular What Doesn't Kill You, a hardhearted breakup song that dismisses any vulnerability at the end of the relationship until it becomes clear the opposite might be true. Bugg lands in the middle.

If there is any doubt that Bugg has a huge career ahead of him, Me And You puts it all to rest. He finds the right register to warm up the entire set of opening tracks. It's a promise song, beautifully sung without ever becoming sappy.

Other standout tracks include the resolute All Your Reasons, rambunctious blues-boogie rocker Kingpin, and the imperfectly melodic Simple Pleasures. The closer, Storm Passes Away, is something of a sad sack spectacle with its country influences.

The crux of the lyrics pine away as Bugg faces the end of a relationship but willfully wants to prolong the rocky end just to have it. The lyrics on their own suggest more desperation would have sold it until he has time to sell the sheer surrender of the arrangement.

The balance of the material holds up, just not as convincingly. The songwriting is strong enough to suggest most will only approve with age, except the unfriendly direction of Kitchen Table. Skip it.

Shangri La By Jake Bugg Blasts 7.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

After a smashing debut that could be best categorized as urban folk rock, Shangri La catches Bugg at an interesting place in his career. He obviously wants to go with the flow that everyone around him is suggesting he explore. And yet, there is some evidence on the album he might leave too many untapped cups behind if he shifts too close to the mainstream.

You can find Shangri La by Jake Bugg on Amazon. The album was also released by Barnes & Noble and can be downloaded on iTunes. Bugg will be playing Manchester, United Kingdom in December. His lineup for 2014 follows him around the world through April. Listings on Facebook.
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