CD review: Jake Bugg, self-titled

Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg

★ ★ ★

Posted 7:50am on Thursday, Apr. 11, 2013

Upstart singer-songwriter Jake Bugg is the latest Brit to take a half-century of pop history and spin it forward.

In less than 40 minutes, the 19-year-old Bugg's self-titled debut manages to evoke everything from the Everly Brothers and Eddie Cochran to the Gallagher brothers and skiffle.

His songs are marked by a tough, youthful insouciance that sets him apart from other lads with a guitar, and his rough-and-tumble backstory (in brief: Bugg -- born Jacob Kennedy -- came of age in the gritty Clifton "estate," or public housing) is tailor-made for music writers to fawn over.

That he bears all the hallmarks of a rock star on the rise makes Jake Bugg's rough edges seem, at times, calculated rather than part of who he is as a musician.

And given that he cites, of all things, The Simpsons as being an early musical influence, the facility with re-creating British and American pop and rock raises a skeptical eyebrow. Just whose tastes is he reflecting? (Production credits are split among five men, none of them Bugg.)

But regardless of backstage machinations, it's the songs on Jake Bugg that take hold: "I've seen it all/Nothing shocks me anymore," he slurs in the fast-moving Seen It All, while the tender, beautiful Country Song ("Going to sing you an old country song/From the heart," Bugg croons) could've been a global hit 40 years ago.

Apart from being over far too soon (although, with 14 songs, a homogeneity sets in before all's through), there are a few freshman missteps. Chief among them is a peculiar fixation on drowning Bugg's bruised tenor in layers of echo to the point of annoyance.

Still, Jake Bugg musters enough brilliance and scrappy charisma to make him one of the most appealing, exciting singer-songwriters to pop out of the U.K. in recent memory.

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