Flatfoot 56 – Black Thorn

  • Cole Faulkner posted
  • Reviews

Flatfoot 56

Black Thorn - Old Shoe Records / STOMP Records

Chicago’s Flatfoot 56 has been fooling the world into seeing them as a Celtic punk band for years.  Their audience hears the slightest tinge of a tin whistle or bagpipes and instantly lumps them together with the likes of The Real McKenzies and The Dropkick Murphys.  Now while the association may be good for business, it’s only part of the story.  From my perspective, the real heart of the band lies in their working class origins.  A far truer characterization might be that Flatfoot 56 is a street punk outfit with a profound admiration for the ideals of camaraderie and brotherhood ultimately defining the Celtic punk movement.

Admittedly there’s a muddy overlap between the two inspirations, but in drawing upon such themes Flatfoot 56 builds a firm foundation.  Boston’s Street Dogs make for an effective comparison – they triumph the common man above all else, and in tern draw upon a variety of subgenres to advance their message.

To open their latest album, Black ThornFlatfoot 56 leans heavily on their Celtic influence, resulting in one of the most atmospheric calls to arms ever recorded.  “The Escape (Intro)” leads the album with a dark sense of escalation made possible by the delicate interplay between a focused mandolin and acoustic guitar.  The clicking of marching-style drumsticks and hypnotic bagpipe sequence enhance a ghostly narrator’s promise of replacing “the every day grind” with “a life of romantic adventure.”  Flatfoot 56 have a deep commitment to their message, making what follows all the more powerful.

After the intro “Black Thorn” kicks off the album in grand fashion.  Generally instrumentation remains the same and the pace picks up, all the while retaining a real “old tyme-y” essence.  Vocalist Tobin Bawinkel belts a mean lyric, boasting the genre’s trademark worn vocals.  A little over half way and the track enters an expansive bridge that balances chant-like “ohhhs” and a steadfast, rallying drumbeat.  Speaking of brotherhood, the cultish aura is enough to make one feel as if present at a fabled Mason gathering.

After establishing Black Thorn’s pressing agenda, Flatfoot 56 eases up on the reigns.  The next couple tracks introduce a jovial, celebratory tone, championing the band’s working class ideals.  “Courage” communicates a sincere respect for every day heroes “that last through time,” taking a jab at Hollywood’s false idols with lines like “not because of a movie or a magazine, but because of your example you inspire me.”  The band reprises a commoner’s sentiment several tracks later in “We Grow Stronger,” which promotes finding strength in hardship.

After revealing both their fun and serious sides, the band shifts between orientations less dramatically, including several instrumentally unique moments.  “Smoke Blower” sees Eric McMahon return to bagpipes for a song about resistance, and “Shiny Eyes” incorporates what sounds like an accordion.  Only “The Hourglass” feels slightly out of place with its sitar-inspired mandolin chords – the resulting images of a foreign India just doesn’t align with the rest of the rest of the album’s Celtic and street themes.  It’s a small misstep, and a few tracks later, easily forgivable.

Black Thorn establishes Flatfoot 56 as a band with a clear drive and vision.  Their articulate sense of social awareness showcases a band who has come a long way from the days of tracks like 2004’s “Breakin’ The Law” – a fairly shallow and borderline thuggish anthem.  Between the street and Celtic overtones, punk fans should find a lot to like here.  So whether Rancid or Flogging Molly informs your morals, Black Thorn should easily find it’s place alongside your conscious.