The family effort Flatfoot 56 with brothers Tobin, Justin, and Kyle Balwinkel, can trace their roots back to the Southside of Chicago much like the Tossers. With Odd Boat, the band is on technically their seventh album since 2000 although most know of only the five releases since 2004’s Knuckles Up, which served as my introduction to Flatfoot 56’s brand of infectious celtic punk rock. I can still remember the first time seeing them live at Cornerstone Festival…the energy and passion was infectious and in subsequent years, catching the special late-night theme shows at Cornerstone was a highlight of the festival even for those not big fans of the music. Following Knuckles Up in 2007 was Journey of the Midwest Sea and then in 2010, Black Thorn came out and the band’s exposure grew immensely, leading even to things like having a song featured on Sons of Anarchy. Toil followed in 2012 and for Odd Boat, the band chose to go the independent route and went to Atlas Studios in Chicago to work with Matt Allison.
To be honest, I approached this album with a bit of trepidation as I wasn’t the biggest fan of Toil. To my jaded view, I tend to see and think of Flatfoot in the light of their live shows filled with lots of circle pits, singalongs and general punk rock craziness that scares some away from the stage area and Toil had a quite a few slower, more melodic celtic punk-influenced rock songs rather than the straight ahead celtic punk rock I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great album, but when you go in with certain expectations, you may get disappointed. Despite the opening feedback on “Ty Cobb” the song started out like it was headed in the same direction as songs on Toil, but then it shifted gears for a bit and entered into the celtic punk arena, only to revert back. That being said, the song will likely still translate well into a live set given the bagpipes and faster parts.
In contrast, “Stutter” fit exactly what I was looking for, driving guitars, bass, and drums, Tobin’s gruff vocals, bagpipes, and some great gang vocals. “Penny’ which immediately follows goes even a bit harder toward the punk side of things with the mandolin taking the place of the bagpipes, but then the song shifts dramatically with some beautiful female vocals from Vanessa Walrath (il neige), who is Tobin’s wife and played drums for his side project 6’10”. The contrast between Tobin’s near gravelly vocals and Vanessa’s silky smooth vocals add a unique element to the song and the strength of her vocals allow them to work through the rest of the song after the band comes back in loud and fast.
The title track “Odd Boat” follows and again continues in the celtic punk mold with a strong bit of mandolin from Brandon Good carrying the song along. “Englewood” and “Curtains” show the band perhaps demonstrating some maturity in songwriting as they slow the pace down slightly for a song that may be a bit more accessible to those not looking for endless circle pits. Likewise, “KPM” goes for clean vocals and guitars and some traditional Irish instruments and the ending track “A Voice” would actually feel very much at home on Tobin’s side project 6’10”. Both are great songs and somehow seem to fit amidst the joyous chaos elsewhere on the album such as the two near hardcore anthems, “P.S.” and “The Trap” which lie sandwiched between those softer tracks.
While Odd Boat can easily be seen as a continuation from Toil in terms of songwriting, Flatfoot 56 have managed to recapture some of the fury and intensity of their older releases and the result is an album that should sound familiar to older fans and yet still be able to draw in new fans.
Written by John Jackson
1. Ty Cobb
3. Penny (Featuring Il Neige)
4. Odd Boat
6. Forward (Featuring Garett Dale)
7. The Crippled
11. The Trap
12. A Voice
Tobin Balwinkel – Vocals, guitar
Kyle Balwinkel – Bass, vocals
Conrad Allsworth – Drums, vocals
Brandon Good – Mandolin, guitar
Eric McMahon – Bagpipes, guitar
Record Label: Sailor’s Grave Records, April 2017
Video for: ‘Penny’