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Bugg discovers country roots

Brenna Enos, benos@lmcexperience.com

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For those who are familiarized with 23-year-old English musician Jake Bugg, his popular folk-rock tunes “Lightning Bolt” and “Two Fingers” may come to mind. But with his fourth album “Hearts That Strain,” Bugg captures a brand-new country tang that no other album has encompassed yet.

Starting off his musical career at age 17, Bugg was signed to Mercury Records after they discovered his performance at an English music festival in 2011. His record signing kick-started his career and soon after, Bugg produced his first self-titled album in 2012. This album was shortly followed by “Shangri La” and both albums had an undeniable folk-rock sound to them. 

After a three-year hiatus, Bugg dropped his record label and cowriters and released his third album “On My One.” This album was largely self-produced and it received mixed reviews due to the content and quality of his work.

In Bugg’s album “Hearts That Strain,” his sound is very different from his previously recorded studio albums and it may be his most cohesive album to date. This album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee alongside a promising list of artists such as Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Noah Cyrus and various backing musicians that worked with Elvis.

The album opens with a dreamy guitar and drum combination “How Soon the Dawn” which creates a chilled vibe. However this relaxed pace is quickly picked up with the next song “Southern Rain” with its upbeat tempo and dusty old folk sound.

“In the Event of My Demise” has a similar country sound yet contains a few points of interest with Bugg’s echoing chorus, that almost has the effect of a psychedelic Beatles song in certain moments.

The tempo increases in his rock infused country song “Burn Alone” with Auerbach’s catchy guitar solo that brings the song into a satisfying fade.

Perhaps the most favorable song on the album, “Waiting” features the vocals of young Cyrus in a seemingly perfect country harmony. A saxophone is also featured on the track, which is a rarity of Bugg, as the majority of his music revolves around guitar and drum tracks.

The rest of the album has both high and low points yet it seems to become repetitive in sound and context after a while. Since Bugg no longer uses the original co-writers from his self-titled and “Shangri La” albums, he has had the freedom to control his sound and lyrics and in this album, which seems to have both positive and negative effects. His freedom has allowed him to heavily explore a country sound — a sound very different from his folk-rock few albums. And while this may seem promising, Bugg lacks lyrically.

The context of this album mainly involves love, loss and well, the South. But as a long-time listener of Bugg, I have to say that I was hoping for more. While the country sound works well for Bugg, I cant help but wish that he had told a meaningful story or given a deeper insight into himself through this album.

His earlier songs, while co-written, ironically seemed be more authentic. Songs like “Slumville Sunrise” and “Messed Up Kids” told stories of his early childhood growing up in Nottingham England and the struggles that he felt and witnessed. In contrast, his newer music such as “Southern Rain” and “Livin’ Up Country,” while undeniably catchy, seem to portray more of an image and less of a true look into Bugg. Overall, the album has a cohesive country sound and context, yet it lacks the excitement of the first few albums. Bugg is no longer new to the music scene and the Bob Dylan vibe that brought him much attention at the beginning, can no longer carry him now. While his writing may be more “authentic” now, I must say that I find myself reminiscing to his early days.

Nevertheless, “Hearts That Strain” is definitely worth a listen to, if not for the album itself, to see Bugg’s interesting transition from neo-folk to full-blown country.

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Bugg discovers country roots