Since his self-titled first album that topped the UK charts when he was only 18, Jake Bugg’s more recent releases have not received the spectacular reactions of his earlier works.
His third album, On My Own, was criticized for Bugg stepping out of his angsty indie rock roots and experimenting with hip-hop beats. Hearts That Strain received a similar reaction when Bugg dabbled with country melodies and songs about love as opposed to his earlier anthems of council-estate life.
But, equipped with just his guitar and famously twanged voice, Bugg’s solo acoustic show in The Black Box Galway was the perfect combination of the troubling tales of growing up in Clifton, and country-esque ballads of love and growing up too soon—both experiences Bugg lived himself.
The young Nottingham songwriter opened with the title song of his latest album Hearts that Strain in which the audience could hear the album’s Nashville roots and influence of studio musicians who previously worked on Elvis’s ‘In the Ghetto’ and ‘Suspicious Minds’.
Once expected to be the next Bob Dylan, Bugg began his next number ‘How Soon The Dawn’ with the lyrics “Just look how far I’ve fell/Down in the wishing well, you’d forgotten,”—a seemingly solemn acknowledgement of past musical expectations after his initial rise to fame.
Bugg then mixed in songs from past performances including ‘Saffron’ and ‘Strange Creatures’, and the most beautiful and heartbreaking performance of ‘Slide’, a song he has previously confessed is incredibly hard on the voice. It was easily the most moving performance of the night.
Many classics from previous albums filled the middle section of the performance such as ‘Me and You’, ‘Country Song’, and ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’ along with covers of Jimmy Webb’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ and Danny O’Keefe’s ‘Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues’.
Although Bugg’s incredibly identifiable singing voice—akin to a combination of a young George Harrison and Bob Dylan—gives him that charmingly different edge on all of his tracks, it was by far utilised best during the performance of ‘Broken’.
Bugg’s perfectly timed deliverance of each strum of the guitar and lyrical release with moving lines such as “For I’m broken down/ Coming down this time/ For my heart lies/ Far and away where they took you down/Let them over to your house/ Where I’m broken,” consumed the entire audience with collective heartache.
A few newer releases were then performed including ‘In the Event of My Demise’, ‘Indigo Blue’, and his new single ‘Waiting’—originally recorded featuring Noah Cyrus, but sounded much more genuine and emotional when delivered solo by Bugg and his acoustic guitar.
The gig wrapped up with an energizing sing-along to ‘Lightning Bolt’ followed by a sincere thank you by Bugg for “letting me play my new stuff, too”.
While some think Bugg has already peaked musically, this Saturday proved to be a subtle reminder that there is still much to come from the young Nottingham talent, and while some of his newer songs have strayed, others have only improved his musical collection and let him grow as an artist.
Contrary to what some believe, Bugg is not ‘Broken”.