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Singer Jake Bugg’s new album brings us to paradise by way of Memphis

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Jake Bugg.
Jake Bugg.

While the rest of the world was looking backward at the memories of an old Kennedy last week, others were looking across the Atlantic to a new Kennedy.

Jake Kennedy, who goes by the handle Jake Bugg, released his new album Shangri La. A sensation in his native U.K. with his first album, Bugg is poised for greatness on this side of the Atlantic with this new Rick Rubin-produced album (Shangri La is the name of Rubin’s studio).

On his website documentary, Bugg records at Sun Studios in Memphis and kicks his boots in the dirt of the legendary Crossroads where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil for fame. He brings those old ghosts into his music from the opening chords of “There’s A Beast and We All Feed It,” a raving rockabilly ditty that kicks up a storm that lasts 1:43.

Just when you have him classified as a retro rocker, Bugg shifts to high gear on “What Doesn’t Kill You,” a blast of power pop punk that would feel right at home on a Green Day album. “Messed Up Kids” has the jangly guitar chords you’d hear on a classic REM song.
His ballads sound like Dylan. The musical interlude of “All Your Reasons” reminds you of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s simmering fury. His rockers sound like Oasis, and he shuffles along like Johnny Cash in spots.

Yet this is a fresh perspective on familiar sounds, with insightful lyrics that reveal a fresh take on what must be going through a 19-year-old’s mind in these times.

“The messed up kids are on the corner with no money/they sell their dime/they sell their drugs/they sell their body/and everywhere I see their empty pockets,” Bugg sings, evoking the frustration many European teens his age must feel as they search for work in a stagnant global economy.

Bugg’s thin, nasally voice is perhaps the most fascinating instrument on Shangri-La, evoking memories of Liam Gallagher without the snotty aftertaste. On “Pine Tree,” a mellow acoustic ballad, he is a dead ringer for Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks period.

Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher are some of Bugg’s more high profile fans. He has gotten raves for his second album and has had dustups in the English press with teen heartthrobs One Direction. He called them “terrible” in an interview, which caused the band to slag him for “slagging off boy bands to make you more indie.”

“There are always going to be boy bands around,” he told the U.K. Daily Record recently.
“In a few years there’ll be a new one and then another one after that.

“I’m sure they’re probably nice guys. I’m just not necessarily a fan of what they do. I write my songs and I go do my gigs. They can sing as many meaningless tunes as they want and probably make quite a bit of money from it. But that’s not the way I go about things.”
Thank God for that! Jake Bugg has restored my faith in rock and roll from the generation that is coming up.

Shangri-La is like a trip through the classic rock section of your iPod, with a fresh voice guiding the way. It’s a blast to see this singer songwriter blossom.

If he is this good at 19, imagine how amazing will he be at the tender age of 25?

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