Beans On Toast - Rolling Up The Hill_PACKSHOT - webDecember is a time of year when long-standing traditions are celebrated. A less heralded one, but a ritual that should be, is the annual release from Beans on Toast. The seventh album, Rolling Up the Hill, has continued the pattern of the first day of the month seeing a new album emerge. The significance of this date is that it’s the birthday of Jay McAlister, Beans on Toast’s driving force.

The opener, ‘The Mudhills Crew’, is a jaunty nostalgic stroll down memory lane for the singer to a time before the mobile phone became ubiquitous. The song also celebrates the simple pleasures of hanging around the streets with friends. Musically it sets the template for the rest of the album.

‘Robin Hood Costume’ shows the other side to his songwriting, the more politicised aspect. This is a tale of a modern day Robin Hood figure, who decides to seek a new way of life by embracing ideas from the past.

‘I’m Home When You Hold Me’, is an achingly lovelorn song bemoaning the life of a travelling singer to the object of his affections. This is a theme he revisits on ‘Driving Me Crazy’. Whether it’s the political or the personal, there is an overwhelming feeling of longing from much of his songs. There is endearing warmth to the personal lyrics as there is a palpable sense of fury on the political songs. This mix of tone works perfectly across the album.

For someone whose appeal stretches across the Atlantic, it is hard to pigeonhole his music. There are elements of bluegrass and the more pastoral English folk tradition. Musically there is nothing too expansive, but that doesn’t matter as it is the words that engage the listener with repeated plays.

‘The Great American Novel’ mixes a number of his themes, as he details his experiences on the road in the US and his observations about the political process. Again, the political is addressed on ‘The Industrial Estate’, which is an observation on the modern day work place, the lyrics written from the perspective of having lived that life. ‘God is a Cartoonist’ deals with the atrocities in Paris at the turn of the year, while moving on to make his point unequivocally clear about his thoughts on all modern day religions.

The beautifully poignant ‘The Art of the Friendship’ talks about his long-term friendship with his friend Loro Verz and the gift on which they collaborated to make for his wife. ‘Number and Words’ is a sparse spoken word poem that lasts 42 seconds and makes its point effectively and wonderfully.

‘A Bit More Track in The Monitor’ is a rant against bands that play to backing tracks, the “karaoke indie bands get on my tits”. The point is made loud and clear given that the song sounds like it was recorded live – an additional two fingers to the bands that McAllister is railing against in the song.

The album ends with ‘Middleageman’, which finds the singer contemplating his lot as he contemplates getting older, “I can barely see things that are too far away, I’m coming around to the fact that I may need glasses one day”. The mournful trumpets at the end lend the album a downbeat, but emotional coda.

The simplicity of the music and the fragile vocals adds to the charm of this album, and even on the angrier and energized numbers he gets his point across. This is the first Beans on Toast album that I have heard, and on the strength of listening to this I would certainly seek out his previous releases, as well as looking forward to celebrating the next album when it arrives next December.

Release Date 01/12/2015 (Xtra Mile Recordings)

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