Every year since 2009, Jay McAllister has released a new album of protest and social comment songs on his birthday, December 1. He’s now 39 and The Inevitable Train Wreck is his eleventh. I have to confess that albums in recent years have done little for me, but this, quite possibly because he’s working in collaboration with Lewis and Kitty Durham from Kitty, Daisy and Lewis and has tapped into the rock ‘n’ roll rhythms of Chuck Berry and Otis Redding’s classic Atlantic soul grooves is his strongest in some time.
It’s the former, from when the title comes, that kicks things off with ‘World Gone Crazy’, a state of the nation protest boogie about how “the ship is sinking” delivered in his familiar Chas ‘n’ Dave vocal complete with catchy singalong chorus. It’s followed appropriately enough with the sunny day woodwind coloured jauntiness of ‘England I Love You’ recollecting the hottest day on record when an unelected leader moved into No 10 and, as you might assume, has much to do with Brexit and his observations on the country’s changing social and political climate where “hate is on the high street” as we hand power to those in charge by turning on ourselves. The same summer also backdrops the snare shuffling, brassy ‘Lost Poetry Department’, where the heat and the inability of the train to take the strain resulted in him leaving his guitar, Martin, on the luggage rack in Guildford.
Finger-snapping and upright bass pinion ‘Extinction No 6’, another lifted from today’s headlines number, this time inspired by Greta Thunberg as he sings of climate change and the legacy we are leaving our children to the cooing of back-up vocals before the tempo shifts midway to a frantic funky flurry that comes on like Ian Dury on amphetamines.
Another sunny goodtime swing carries ‘Saying No To Robots’ which, like the funky, horns a go go ‘Logic Bomb’, taps into worries about the glitches and exploitable weaknesses of modern technology where computer crashes and hackers can bring things to standstill or worse, or, as he expounds on the monologue bridge of the former, artificial intelligence renders the need for humans redundant..
Introduced by wailing harmonica, as per the title, ‘Rich vs Poor’ addresses more traditional protest territory, which may be why it’s the one that most calls to mind Bragg and Guthrie, albeit veined with his individual wit than can turn out lines like “it will be the loaf of bread versus the upper crust”.
Simply strummed, ‘Mountains’ slows things down for a song which, in its sentiment about surmounting the obstacles before you, is essentially his take on ‘Climb Every Mountain’ from The Sound of Music. And, while we’re out in the countryside, the fact that he’s played Glastonbury on numerous occasions doubtless led him to write ‘Take Your Shit Home With You’, a rap across the knuckles for those who reckon it’s okay to leave their £30 pop-up Argos tents and the rest of the rubbish behind when they go home.
The Inevitable Train Wreck ends with, first the call for love and honesty in ‘Truth Be Told’, another motoring-along boogie, here with Kitty and Daisy calling back the chorus line and honky tonk piano taking it to the close, and finally, returning to politics with references to Donald and Boris, ‘On and On’, which attacks the placing profit over people, the widening inequality divide and how, while more people die of obesity than starvation, of old age than lack of medication, we live in a time when “more people take their own lives than die in wars”. And yet, he still manages to leave on an upbeat, positive note, declaring “I believe the world’s worth saving …and we can keep on singing, because life goes on”.
If he carries this form over into his 40s, then perhaps he can really help switch the points and stop things going off the rails.
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‘On & On’ – official video: