There’s a lot to be said for having shrewd taste, and with a background on a Nottingham council estate surrounded by friends plugged into contemporary urban music, it is this asset which has got 18-year-old folk-troubadour Jake Bugg to where he is now. And, taking this self-titled debut as an indicator, where Bugg’s at right now is most likely the early 1960s; sat somewhere between Johnny Cash, The Beatles and Bob Dylan.
Except Bugg, who first picked up a guitar six years ago after hearing Don McLean on The Simpsons, recently admitted that he’s only actually ever listened to one Dylan album. Whichever it was, he must’ve listened to it pretty damn hard, as the likes of ‘Lightning Bolt’, ‘Country Song’ and ‘Trouble Town’ don’t so much tip a hat to pre-electric Bob, as steal his hat, shoes and coat (although not his harmonica) and make a bee-line for the Newport Folk festival. Yet, it is a testament to Bugg’s good taste and songwriting that he not only gets away with being slightly derivative, but makes you sit up and listen to what is a surprisingly assured collection of songs.
This is in part due to Bugg’s voice, which proves far more versatile than Dylan’s; equally comfortable belting out ‘Broken’s emotive denouement as he is crooning Buddy Holly-like on the crackly, home- recorded ‘Fire’. His lyrics, meanwhile, tend towards a Springsteen-ish desire to escape his roots while grappling with the fear of forgetting them entirely. This is clearest on the youthful vigour of highlight ‘Two Fingers’, in which Bugg wrestles between seeing his mates at home in Clifton (“the best people I could ever have met”) and his new found success elsewhere (“I hold two fingers up to yesterday... I got out alive and I’m here to stay”).
Now counting Noel Gallagher as an admirer and tour-mate, it’s certainly fair to say Bugg’s made it out of Clifton. Whether he’s here to stay will depend on if he gains the confidence to stamp more individuality on his songs. For now, though, his shrewd taste more than carries him through.