Jake Bugg’s career is a measure of how far the lines of British pop music culture have been redrawn in the past two decades. In 1995, the music he makes would have been ten-a-penny.
Virgin EMI, £14.99
Star rating: * * *
Now, a working-class 19-year-old from Nottingham with separated parents seems like a lone voice of lower-orders authenticity amidst the cultured climes of the UK pop aristocracy.
It’s perhaps unfair to view his very existence as a political statement, but when (as in Messed Up Kids) his protagonist was “kicked out of her home in hard times” and everywhere he looks around his dilapidated town “I see a sea of empty pockets”, it’s hard not to feel his voice is that of a generation denied their own.
His music isn’t afraid to be loud and raw and desperate, and two early highlights of this second album – arriving 13 months after his eponymous debut – reflect this. There’s a rebel country twang to There’s A Beast And We All Feed It, the monster-as-metaphor of the title “eating every bit of beauty”, while the clattering punk of What Doesn’t Kill You soundtracks those times “you feel you’re up against the world”.
Rarely, though, do his lyrics overtly nail their colours to any masts beyond this spirit of hard-time reflection and tracks like Me And You, A Song About Love and Pine Trees develop an overwhelming air of downtrodden transatlantic country blues in the vein of long-professed influence Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie and the La’s Lee Mavers. It’s a strong album by a young talent with one eye clearly on across-the-pond success rather than the work of a generation’s voice, but there’s little question the earthiness of his sound makes him almost unique among his peers. David Pollock
Download this: What Doesn’t Kill You, Messed Up Kids
Star rating; * * *
“Do you wanna see the girl who lives behind the aura?” demands Lady Gaga on her fourth album’s attention-grabbing opening track Aura, a weird combination of Lynchian murder ballad, EDM club banger and hyper-produced electropop. Of course we don’t, and that’s what at once renders the record eminently worthy of your attention and very tricky to make an emotional connection with. Her songs are near universally club bangers which dwell astutely on her place in popular culture. Stand-outs are Venus, the R. Kelly-featuring Do What U Want, and Swine which brilliantly compares her to “a pig inside a human body”. Yet at its core it’s a triumph of pop over art. DP
Download this: Swine, Aura
Swings Both Ways
Star rating: * * *
A “sequel” to 2001’s album Swing When You’re Winning, ex-Take That star Williams explores every facet of his wide but often laborious repertoire here, including brassy, anthemic, Guy Chambers-authored pop in Shine My Shoes and Go Gentle; swaggering old-time referentialism in the lush Williams/Coltrane mash-up Swing Supreme and the Michael Bublé-abetted Soda Pop; and a bit of seasonal balladry. Although sadly it’s the self-referential and cloyingly self-satisfied likes of I Wan’na Be Like You (alongside Olly Murs, a nadir of Williams in-jokery) and deliberately camp Rufus Wainwright collaboration Swings Both Ways that smother the atmosphere. DP
Download this: Swing Supreme, Dream A Little Dream
Don’t Be That Way
Mack Avenue MAC1071, £14.99
Star rating; * * *
Bennett is a young American clarinettist, not yet 30, but on this, his debut album for Mack Avenue, he already seems to be trying to dispel the notion that he is a Benny Goodman clone. But he only half-heartedly shrugs off the Goodman association, since the CD includes a number of Goodman tunes – though they’re performed in a very different, modern style and with a more personal, less imitative sound. Indeed the revised, contemporary versions of the title track and the iconic Sing, Sing, Sing are highlights of this generally unexciting CD. Alison Kerr
Download this: Sing, Sing, Sing
Pete Clark and Ron Shaw
Jig Of Chance
Inver Music INVER228, available online
Star rating: * * * *
The cover of this album has Ron Shaw sunnily sailing. Musically he’s sailing on the course taken by the great fiddlers of Scotland’s Golden Age – figures like Gow, Marshall and Mackintosh – and, like Gow’s brother, accompanying with his “bass” or cello. He adds another voice to the continuing evolution of the traditional fiddle, here in the hands of Pete Clark. There is little showboating or razzmatazz in this album, just a very well played and inventively expressive interplay on jigs, reels, strathspeys, airs and marches. Ross Martin’s guitar here and there adds rhythmic and harmonic compulsion, but the “wee” and “big” fiddles are as well up to the task as Niel Gow and his brother Donald, also from Clark’s Inver, were nearly three centuries ago. Norman Chalmers
Download this: Lon Dhu Gholaidh/The Song of the Cats
Challenge Classics CC72596, £18.99
Star rating: * * * * *
This is the second recording of Schubert works by tenor Christoph Prégardien with pianist Michael Gees, following a highly commended CD of Die Schöne Müllerin, and it is particularly notable for its dynamic range. This is no drawing room wander through a charming winter’s landscape, but much more evokes
the idea that Winterreise was in
part a self-portrait of the young composer, who drafted the poems that make up this song cycle in the same year he discovered and understood, perhaps, the full and ultimately fatal impact of the syphilis he had contracted some time earlier. The result is a highly charged recording. Alexander Bryce
Download this: Track 5, Der Lindenbaum