Rating – 4/5
Famed for releasing a new album on every birthday since 2009, Jay McAllister a.k.a singer songwriter Beans on Toast breaks with tradition on his 40th by releasing…two albums! ‘Knee Deep In Nostalgia’, a full band record is released alongside ‘The Unforeseeable Future’; a more stripped back, gritty and sombre effort featuring solo guitar and piano songs.
With production, arrangement and some peppy back up vocals from fellow folk friend Frank Turner, ‘Knee Deep In Nostalgia’ cements itself as a storytelling record; a collection of stories about Beans’ early years and his musical career up to this point. From tributes to country legend Wille Nelson (‘What Would Willie Do’) to his early years in Camden (‘Once Upon A Time’), it’s thematically introspective, as much for the listener to explore as it is for Beans himself.
The misty eyed reminiscence on some tracks can be overly saccharine at times, you can only be so interested in the esoteric musings of someone’s past for so long. Having said that, this is clearly supposed to be a sentimental record; a deliberately rose-tinted reflection on Beans’ formative experiences.
The full band experience really gives life to a lot of these songs, and Frank’s influence is very apparent on the record; though full writing credit goes to Beans, the Frank Turner sound and aesthetic is a welcome injection of life that invigorates the whole experience. .
Folk music is always characterised by a strong oral tradition, stories and poems passed along by ordinary people that reflect the life and times in which they live. The timing of the nostalgic record is unfortunate, but not one to be deterred by a trifling thing like a pandemic; Beans has also released ‘The Unforeseeable Future’; the sulky and dare I say, more substantial cousin of ‘Knee Deep In Nostalgia’.
The tracks on his album appear chronologically, mirroring the events of 2020 as they unfolded slowly before our eyes. It plays out like diary entries, a parody of Beans’ thoughtful, hopeful reflections on the other record, now reduced to confronting the harsher realities of the present.
From the mishandling of coronavirus, the apparent callousness of government and the galvanising effects of the BLM movement that gripped most of the Western hemisphere and continues to do so; this is Beans’ strongest material. The protest nature of this collection of songs really does condense the current climate and shines a glaring and honest light on the situation.
There seems to be no slowing down for Beans, the yearly release of material is impressive no doubt; perhaps this double release will prove to be a watershed moment for his songwriting career. Let’s hope that with his future releases he’ll be able to look back and reflect, if not fondly, then at least wisely at the subject matter of ‘The Unforeseeable Future’.
Review by Theo Wildgoose