If growing up in Witham meant Braintree appeared to be Shelbyville to our Springfield, I should go no further. The Prodigy are undoubtedly Essex’s finest musical export in the last three decades, next to Colchester’s Blur, and what did Witham give us? Olly Murs, that’s who.
Though if Jay McAllister’s hometown evokes my own childhood memories, his forthcoming album, Knee Deep in Nostalgia will for all. It’s released, as all his annual studios albums are, on his birthday, the 1st December. Yet whereas Braintree’s Prodigy were sovereigns of progression, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking about Jay, from the same Essex community, who’s tongue-in-cheek stage name, Beans on Toast suggests. But it makes up for it in highly entertaining folk songs which doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
As with Frank Turner, who incidentally guested on and produced previous Beans on Toast albums, I jumped on the chance to review this on the endorsement from Sheer Music’s Kieran Moore, and just as before, perhaps more so, he didn’t let me down. For as a folk singer-songwriter I’d evaluate Beans on Toast isn’t Tammy Wynette, or Willie Nelson, of whom he takes a nod to in a song on this album, but he is the best thing at least since the sliced bread in his namesake. He is Beans on Toast, indefinitely, and I love beans on toast. you can add cheese, you can add little sausages, but as it remains, none matter, simplicity is key; just beans, on two slices of toast, it works.
Aptly, just as the dish, his style is simple but effective and immediately likable. He drafts songs from the heart, served with a side-order of cheeky Essex humour, the reason why he’s played every Glasto since his first, and Boomtown, recorded with and shared the stage with many legends, recorded in Kansas with Truckstop Honeymoon, opened for Kate Nash and Flogging Molly, and aforementioned Turner on his sell-out Wembley show. Why haven’t I cottoned on about his brilliance before? It’s an age thing; old dog, new tricks. But that, in a nutshell, is the theme for this album, as the name suggests, but not without both sentimental and humorous prose.
For this whippersnapper contemplates his looming fortieth, which, if I get the honour of you reading this, Jay, I’ll confirm it gets no better. And with it reminisces his past. One concerning the thrills and pitfalls of gigging in Camden, but most poignant are those which go back to childhood; being frightened on Halloween, inspirational teachers, family discos at a village hall, and one which ingeniously sums up the whole shebang of daydreaming about the past.
Knee Deep in Nostalgia isn’t going to wow you with technological advances in sound, it isn’t going to whisk you to a fantasy world. I’d even say there’s sometimes cliché with the subject matter, but when done it’s done uniquely, insightfully reflective. There’s ingeniously uncensored meagre material here, offering a range aside the general theme of nostalgia, particularly the upbeat and carefree Coincidence, which rings almost on a level of Madness for fairground joy.
The gem is precisely in its simplicity, Beans on Toast reflects and rebounds onto the listener, acknowledging their own life in his words. You may have known a crazy Australian dude, as depicted here, you may giggle at your own fondness for Finder’s Crispy Pancakes, or when the streetlights coming on was a signal to go home, and the other everyday juvenile cultural references. And for this, and more, I bloody love this album.
There is a particular nugget which knocked me head-over-heels, and it’s when Beans on Toast get sentimental. Reminiscing often spawns from watching your own children, and interacting with their joy and innocence at discovering the world again. Tricky to pinpoint why having kids is overwhelmingly fantastic, being they poo on your hand, launch their dinner in your face, cost you a king’s ransom, belittle you and grow to ignore your every word, but with a simple leitmotif Beans on Toast nails it. Again, even when semimetal, nothing is psychologically challenging, it’s just the premise of The Album of the Day, which touches the heartstrings; sharing a moment with his daughter, as with alongside other memorable doings, he temps her musical taste with choices from his record collection. It sounds sickly, but I promise you, as I did earlier, this guy can pull it off with bells on.
That said, kids grow, and the fragile years, when they’d take heed and listen to Bob Marley, Dire Straits, Paul Simon, or whoever inspired you, are too short. They’ll find their own way, and you have to allow them to, as your house turns into a bass funnel and you metamorphize into your own misunderstanding parents; it’s unavoidable no matter how you might think when they were inspired by your likes, and in this, is the brilliance of the song.
I mean my offspring, they don’t even like beans on toast, right, which I think is abnormal; all kids like beans, it should be enforced! Such should this album. And it comes with an accompanying album, The Unforeseeable Future, which I could only speculate about, as the title suggests, as they didn’t send that. On the basis of this one though, I’m musically smitten.