Photo credit: thisisbossi

As a band — not a “Christian” band — Flatfoot 56 reminds listeners once again that it’s possible to find purpose and virtue in dark, cynical times, simply by living through them and sharing the pain.  Sure, the band’s seamless blend of Celtic punk, folk and Ramones-style surfabilly sparkles reliably on its latest release, Toil. (Paper + Plastick Records).

But more significantly — and far more difficult to pull off — is the band’s ability to consistently reflect the unknowns of a world in which reliable institutions break down reliably; and to do so without preaching, cloying or begging its listeners.

Indeed, there’s no mistaking the urgency or class consciousness of the Flatfoot 56 catalog and live ethos, which in the context of their Christian roots, is downright subversive; and has landed them 9 Billboard charts.

“Courage, your name means something to me,” towering frontman Tobin Bawinkel sang on the band’s previous release, 2010’s “Black Thorn,” as he celebrated “heroes of the daily grind.”

Working class tears again are turned to triumph on Toil’s first single.

“Gotta shut your mouth and start to walking,” he implores on “I believe it.”

Yet for every turn of the cheek and simple act of kindness advocated here — and there are plenty — there are calls to action that border on militancy — as on “Work for Them,” the disc’s seventh track.

“Are we fighting fire by burning out? Giving in by turning down?”

Produced by the Street Dogs’ Johnny Rioux, who also recorded 2010’s “Black Thorn,” the new record further pushes the band hell bent into the mainstream with a message that’s hard to mistake — lyrically and musically.

Toil was recorded in the “Jungle of the Midwest Sea” — a moniker the band gave its beloved Chicago; and the title of its 2007 CD. Joining Bawinkel at Matt Allison’s Atlas Studios for the Toil sessions were brothers Justin (drums) and Kyle (bass), along with Eric McMahon (bagpipes/guitar) and Brandon Good (mandolin/guitar).

Regional pride also thunders home on the anthem, “Winter in Chicago,” which references an incident, in which hundreds of commuters were stranded in their cars on Lake Shore Drive during an epic blizzard. (Oddly, Toil was released on a nearly 100-degree Tuesday in Chicago.)

And it’s ok and it’s alright, ’cause it’s winter in Chicago and I’m stuck on Lake Shore Drive. And there’s no work. The frost, it bites. ‘Cause it’s winter in Chicago and the Hawks are on tonight. Yeah, it’s alright.

Alright, indeed.


Favorite tracks:

“I believe it.” (Toil, 2012)

“Loaded Gun” (Jungle of the Midwest Sea, 2007)

“Courage” (Black Thorn, 2010)

Gary Mays is a veteran freelance writer, editor and investigative reporter who has worked for The Chicago Tribune, The Wisconsin (Madison) State Journal, and other, smaller but no-less- important publications.

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