Jake Bugg

Shuffling, playlisting and cherry-picking your favourite songs is all well and good, but sometimes you can’t beat sitting down with an album and playing it from start to finish. An album that sounds like it was recorded in one room, with the same group of people and that perfectly captures a specific moment in time.

Jake Bugg’s last album, 2016’s On My One, was a dizzyingly eclectic collection of styles and sounds, but for the follow up, the 23-year–old wanted something that felt like the LPs that took pride of place in his own record collection. Albums take you into their own, sealed world. “On the last album it was fun to experiment with different instruments and writing styles,” reflects Bugg. “But this time around I just wanted to make a complete record as opposed to a collection of songs. Just write the tunes and record them with great musicians.”

He’s certainly got his wish for Hearts That Strain. Starting in January this year, Bugg would write songs at home then fly out to Nashville to record them with some of the best players in the history of popular music. As part of American Sound Studio’s legendary house band The Memphis Boys, Gene Chrisman and Bobby Woods provided the chops on such pivotal records as Dusty In Memphis, In The Ghetto, Suspicious Minds and Dark End Of The Street, cutting their teeth in sessions with Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin and Dionne
Warwick.

“They’re old guys but they’re amazing,” Bugg recalls with disbelief. “It was ten to five and then that’s it. They'd pack up and we’d done two or three tunes. It was a mad vibe being from England and meeting these absolute legends and then cutting some tracks with them.”

Working with producers David Ferguson and Matt Sweeney, Bugg’s time in Nashville proved to be incredibly productive. In just three week-long trips they’d finished the album. “Nashville is mad. Everybody plays out there. You go around somebody’s house for a few beers and just jam with them.”

One of the people he ended up just jamming with was The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, who collaborated with Bugg on breezy opener How Soon The Dawn, the shuffling rockabilly get-down I Can Burn Alone and In The Event Of My Demise, a tune that sounds like a generations old folk song the pair have freshly dug up out of the Mississippi mud. “Dan’s wicked,” smiles Bugg. “He’s got this amazing work ethic, he just knuckles down and gets on with it.”

P.T.O
Another chance encounter provided a surprise collaboration. When Bugg was back in the UK writing, mulleted country rock superstar Billy Ray Cyrus stopped by the studio and was so taken with the rough version of Waiting he heard being played off the desk that he suggested his daughter - younger sister of Miley and rising star in her own right - Noah Cyrus should sing on it. The result is one of Hearts That Strain’s finest moments - a Southern Soul waltz of a ballad to which a swooning Cyrus vocal brings the direct emotional wallop of the best country music. “I’d never really collaborated with many singers so I was a bit unsure," recalls Bugg, "but when they sent it back it was amazing. It was a nice surprise. When I come back in it sounds terrible, but when she’s singing it sounds alright!”

Nashville, Billy Ray Cyrus, seasoned session pros… anyone for whom the idea of Jake Bugg in a Stetson and bootlace tie might cause unease can rest easy. Hearts That Strain is still very much the same voice and remarkably assured songwriter of Lightning Bolt and Slumville Sunrise, it's more that his surroundings and the players around him have bled into the record’s mood and warm, glowing production. It's there in the gently strummed mandolin that floats in on Southern Rain, the deft finger picking on the title track, the sighing pedal steel that glides through This Time and the slapback echo and crackling guitar lines that make I Can Burn Alone sound like it could have been cut at Sun Studios. More importantly, it provides the threads that run through Hearts That Strain that make it feel like more than the sum of its parts. Rather than be an album to dip in and out of, it’s an organic whole that from the moment you press play you have to see it out to the final note.

“I just like putting out records,” reflect Bugg with characteristic understatement. “I like making albums, I like listening to albums. If you listen to a lot of those classic records throughout each track you can tell that it’s recorded in the same place. It’s nice to have that consistency.” It seems reports of the album’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Honey Honey

Burlap and opals. Moonshine and macrobiotics. Shaken and soothed. How Suzanne Santo (vocals/banjo/violin) and Ben Jaffe (vocals/guitar) managed to reconcile not just polemics, but seemingly opposed realities for their sexually tinged, bruised knee honeysuckle take on roots music has to be heard to be understood.

Yet somehow the young 20-somethings figured out that it's the extremes that define the middle, whether embracing the big mistakes in the bluesy smoulder "Glad I Done What I Did," embracing the romantic doubt that is the low slung gospel of "Don't Know How," or the euphoric romp-age of "Let's Get Wrecked" that embraces the arc debauchery completely. This is the sound of coming not of age, but awareness; and digging into what it means to be alive permeates throughout honeyhoney's October 24th release of Billy Jack on Lost Highway Records.

"The album is made of a lot of stories, a lot of lives," Santo picks up. "We're very different, but those differences are what makes it. I've had a lot of different times in my personal life that kinda leveled me as a person. That's why this record is the way it is. It's made of guts: what's happening on the inside, the notion of us being really independent, being on our own. That's a big reality."

With fiddles threading the melodies, big acoustic guitar sounds and banjos plinking as percussively as melodically, there is an old world feel to honeyhoney that is as fresh and right now as it is tube radios and old lace.

And it is the disparity of how the two came up and came together that informs honeyhoney with their singularity of sound. Meandering through unique paths, converging in Los Angeles where everyone is chasing something, and finally recognizing the chemistry they shared is no mean feat.

Evoking California's hippie Dust Bowl fringe, equal parts Okie squalor and Pacific shimmer, there is a strong pull of Woody Guthrie-esque folk, vintage Buffalo Springfield, glints of Gram Parsons and bits of Bonnie Raitt's early blues, Rickie Lee Jones reality and Bakerfsfield Saturday nights. Not country, not folk, not rock, it is a hybrid that defies exact definition.

Still "Billy Jack" pumps with the thump of hearts on fire, levels with the pang of real instruments played like someone means it.

"If we want anything from these songs," adds Jaffe, "it's to bring people into this music, to engage them."

Engage them they will. With the three-month long "Ten Buck Tour" with Joshua James kicking off on September 21st in Albuquerque, honeyhoney is ready to bring their new songs to the people who inspire them the most: their friends, peers and fans.

On the brink of truly coming into their own, they are ready for whatever the music brings…

$15.00

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