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Album review: Jake Bugg, Shangri La, Virgin/EMI


If the challenge faced by Jake Bugg on his second album is to prove you can take the boy out of Clifton (the Nottingham council estate where he was born) without taking all traces of Clifton out of the boy, then it’s one he rises to. Those who see Bugg’s so-called “authenticity” — whatever that means — as a storm of hype might spy signs of “grooming” in the decision to record in LA with producer Rick Rubin, but the follow-up to his hit debut makes the Midlands-to-Malibu move look largely seamless: as an exercise in expanded range, Shangri La is too diverse and distinct to dismiss.

Bugg’s skiffle-billy roots remain, but they benefit from a confidence upgrade on the full-pelt opening tracks, which lay into Twitter (“There’s a Beast and We All Feed It”) and, on “Slumville Sunrise”, reiterate his hunger to spread his wings (“This place is just not for me”) beyond his birthplace. Those wings aren’t flexed too persuasively on “Simple Pleasures”, which circles its melodic tail like one of Noel Gallagher’s “proper music” sermons, and “A Song About Love”, which lapses into Snow Patrol platitudes.

But US influences galvanise Bugg on the boogie-rocking “Kingpin” and the street-corner snapshot “Messed Up Kids”, where solo artist and sometime raconteur Brendan Benson’s co-writing credit registers keenly.

Elsewhere, Bugg’s Marmite voice invests ballads (“Me and You”), finger-picked reflections (“Kitchen Table”) and lonesome reveries (“Storm Passes Away”) with surprising authority.

“Where will you go when the storm passes away,” he asks on the latter. For Bugg, the answer seems clear: far from Clifton, without much risk of losing his way.