Fans of Flatfoot 56 certainly should have seen this day coming after hearing their last album Toil. First of all there was a song on that album called 6’10 and that song and a couple others had a more folksy-Americana feel and sound to them than the Celtic punk the band is best known. As a testament to the quality of the songwriting in the band, that departure from their standard sound didn’t really seem out of place on the album. So now, Tobin Bawinkel has gone off on his own for a solo project that essentially continues where those songs left off.
For those not so familiar with Flatfoot 56, if you see Tobin (and the other Bawinkel brothers for that matter) standing around at show or among normal people, the 6’10” part suddenly makes a lot of sense. I’m not a terribly short person, but often seemed to find myself behind Tobin during crowed shows at Cornerstone Festival, which meant I got to see mostly the back of his bobbing head. For 6’10, Bawinkel wanted a stripped down sound and to provide an atmosphere similar to one he remembered growing up where his family would be playing bluegrass and folk music in their living room. The overall goal in telling the stories in the songs is “to be able to inspire and relate to people who want something more than the typical things that the world we live in tries to force us to live for. I want it to encourage those who have gone through tough times, to realize that there is always gold to be found in the mud that life sometimes bogs us down in. The trials and difficulties we face can either make us bitter or they can make us better.”
With a familiar sounding voice saying in gruff whisper “Expressin’ what I need to be expressin’”, The Humble Beginnings of a Roving Soul kicks off with “Cannonball”, one of the few songs on the album that almost feel as if it could have come from outtakes of the Flatfoot 56 album Toil. I say almost in that there seems to a bit of restraint at play compared to the typical Flatfoot 56 song. That being said, I can easily picture a souped up version of this being played live with a sing-along chorus. The addition of some violin work with the seemingly ever-present mandolin not only makes for a nice touch and adds an interesting element to the song that further distances it from Tobin’s other band.
For the Flatfoot fans looking for a song that has their familiar sound, “Timothy” is likely the one on the album most likely to spur those thoughts as the guitar and mandolin carry the song along and it has some of the Celtic/Irish-feel to it, especially the gang vocals toward the end. From the song structure to the lyrics, to the delivery of the vocals, this strikes me as a Flatfoot 56-style song. Oh, but it’s acoustic, and yet that seems to not make any difference.
“Hurricane” is probably one of my favorite songs on the album. The song itself describes the difficulties we tend to bring on ourselves when we lose sight of God and try to fix everything without the ever-present help that is there. Through the music, I get the feel of the storm approaching and some darkness in the beginning that changes over the course of the song to a brighter finish as if the storm has passed. “You speak my name and calm the storm inside of me…”
In addition to “Hurricane” songs like “Someday Hun” and “It is Well” are ones where the album really shines. In both cases, there are other voices taking the lead for a verse or two providing a nice contrast to Tobin’s familiar gruff. The traditional hymn “It is Well” features a female voice taking a verse or two and the tone and inflections remind me of at least one of the singers for the traditional Irish band Solas, which given the musical history of some of the band members shouldn’t be too surprising. Hearing the background noise with the song adds some good texture to the song and reinforces the idea that the listener is just hanging out with the band and friends, enjoying some time together.
Lyrics of “Backpack” fit well with the title of the album, and can be seeing portraying the idea of how Christians really can find peace when they stop trying to be of the world and instead be in the world, realizing that this is not our true home. “I’ve found the peace of a roving soul, we walk alone, past all these cultures of pain, finding hope in a backpack that’s calling my name…” Reminds me a bit of the Rich Mullins song, “You Did not Have a Home” describing how Jesus did not have a home during his time on earth. I still like the line in that song,” the hope of the whole world rests on the shoulders of a homeless man”. It took me a while to make the connection, but some of The Humble Beginnings of a Roving Soul sound very much like songs that could be off the Rich Mullins and Ragamuffin’ Band Jesus Record.
So by now, you might have guessed this isn’t some punk rock side project. Imagine if Flatfoot 56 went unplugged and you are part way there but still not quite. From a musicianship and production standpoint, both are spot on for the album. There is a little bit of a gritty, live feel , and all the instruments and voices are clear as if you’re right there. When this album hits full stride, which is most of the time, it has the general feel that makes the listener feel as if they’ve been given an inside seat to watch some friends old and new get together, laugh, and play some music. I can’t help but imagine Tobin with a big old grin on his face as he’s singing and playing these songs in front of friends and strangers soon to be friends. As side projects go, 6’10 should be familiar enough to satisfy Flatfoot 56 fans and yet different enough to appeal to a whole new audience that may not be overly fond of somewhat raucous punk rock. This is one of those albums where it always seems is the right time to play it, no special mood or occasion needed.
Written by John Jackson
2. Da Boss
3. Peach Farmer
6. Someday Hun
7. Where Did You Go
9. It Is Well
10. Burning Ships
12. The Travelers
Tobin Balwinkel – Lead Vocals, Guitar
Josh Robieson, – Mandolin, Ukulele
Mike Pettus – Ukulele Bass
Keith Perez – Drums
Record Label: Burnside Distribution, Jan. 2015
Video below ‘Cannonball’
Video below ‘Timothy’
Video below ‘Backpack’