beans on toast a bird in the Hand album review

Friday December 1st will see the release of the latest Beans On Toast album A Bird In The Hand. An annual event in its 10th year, Jay McAllister uses his birthday every year to release a new Long Player. With this latest album marking the entry to double figures. The interesting by-product of this schedule, is that with an artist as forthright and honest as McAllister, his albums tend to act as an aural Christmas letter. Letting you know the ups, downs and developments over the preceding 12 months.

What a 12 months it’s been. Becoming a father in 2018, much of A Bird in The Hand deals with both the direct and indirect changes parenthood can bring. Even getting a few tracks deep before Beans On Toast’s heart on your sleeve politics are brought to the fore. Plus, not a single drink is mentioned until the album is almost out. But don’t let that fool you into thinking fatherhood has mellowed McAllister. This album still carries Beans’ sharp-edged observation, with lyrics and ideas that slice at societal absurdity like Occam’s razor.

Reconnecting with Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons, who produced his 2008 double album debut. Beans found himself with access to the famed Church Studios in London where Mumford & Sons were recording their next album. Utilizing the facilities during off days and late nights, McAllister laid down A Bird In The Hand along with the help of in-house engineer, Riley McIntyre. As well producing the album and providing piano, Lovett brought in fellow Mumford & Sons’ Chris Mass and Ted Dwane to feature on the album, together with Dutch artist Christof van der Ven on guitar.

A Bird In The Hand gets off to a gentle start with the touching tribute to his father and daughter Another Year. Beans backed by accordion and Lovett’s piano as he sings of the adjustment in perspective that comes with the responsibility of stewarding life. It’s a sentiment that’s continued on the jaunty knees-up of Good Health and Happiness. The title of which declares Beans’ reward aspirations as an artist. Magic is a wonderful piece of storytelling about the birth of his daughter. It navigates delicate waters by being emotional and honest while avoiding the choppy seas of schmaltz and cheese. Perfectly capturing the paradoxical time passage of childbirth.

“I’ve been playing this song live for a while now, and it definitely strikes a chord. More than any song I’ve ever written, I think. After my shows, the conversations used to all be about after parties or ecstasy, now more often than not it’s about parenting or newborn babies. Which is fine with me”

The first political overtones come on Here at Homerton Hospital. A tribute to the staff where Beans welcomed his daughter to the world. Focusing on the individuals who make Britain’s National Health Service what it is. It highlights how immigration is lifeblood of the Service. A flow under threat by insular political discourse.

Beans plugs in the guitar, brings a snarl to the voice and a roll to the snare on Alexa. This great stomper lamenting how we’ve willingly welcomed a corporate Stasi into our homes. There’s a tribute to friends, former stable mates and touring partners Skinny Lister on 1980’s Sagittarius and Bamboo Toothbrush returns to more familiar Beans on Toast territory. Railing at the culture of disposability and the plastics polluting our world.

Watching The World Go By is great feel good folk and surprisingly the first mention of booze or drugs on the album.  The Skank intro to Please Give Generously gives way to a Roobarb and Custard synth as Beans addresses the concept of giving to the homeless. ‘Would it really break the bank? Aren’t the banks already broken?’ he sings, offering up his empathetic perspective. True, you’re probably not going to change someone’s life, but you could change their night. If you don’t give money, give time, give energy, give compassion. Just do it generously and acknowledge the existence of another human being.

Finishing the record by coming full circle, Miss You Like Crazy comes back to the love of his family, his new daughter and his love of performing. The latter putting food on the table but keeping him from the former. With the Junior McAllister’s (I presume) heart melting gurgles closing out A Bird In The Hand.

A fine and fitting way to ring in a decade of album releases, over the course of his career Beans on Toast has become something of a cult, national treasure. A modern day ‘Barefoot Troubadour’, McAllister continues with his consistent voice of truth and honesty while evolving as a writer, father, husband and human. Succinctly reaching the heart of issues without being preachy, pedantic or saccharine. A Bird in the Hand is a delightful celebration of love, life, family and the world in which we live.

A Bird In The Hand is released December 1st on Beans On Toast Music and can be pre-ordered here.

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