An Irishman walks into a punk club with a mandolin. Generally this sort of statement is followed by off-color cultural references, some dissembling, and finally a punch line something like, "That's not my mandolin, it's a rabbit!" After which, no one laughs and there's some awkward moments before someone finally just turns the music up and hopes the joke-teller will go away. Flatfoot 56 has a released their sophomore project, and that's no joke. Chicago's own Celtic punk ensemble caught me completely off guard by putting out a record with a sound I absolutely loved.
Jungle of the Midwest Sea is a 14-track, boot-stomping, fist-pumping, pit-moshing Irish sing-a-long McStravaganza that gets the olde blood a-flowing. Fans of the Dropkick Murphys and similar Celt-punk bands will definitely appreciate the loud uproarious heartiness of this style of music. It blends your standard 3- and 4- chord punk songs with snappy rhythms and traditional instruments like the mandolin, bagpipes, Irish whistles, and of all things, a bouzouki. This music is meant to be about brotherhood and is full of real heart and vigor; each song is inspired and meaningful, drawing from the lads' experiences growing up in Chicago, Bible stories like Cain's murder of Abel, the parable of the sower, and the story of Stephen.
"The Galley Slave" opens the album with a head-bobbing tune about a slave rowing a boat in bondage for being a Christian, a powerful song with a great melody that's really just an intro. It flows nicely into the first three jump-up-and-down songs, of which "City On A Hill" really stands out as a grave warning to posers, in a spiritual sense (Have I mentioned you can mosh to all of the above?). "Hoity Toity" mixes a fun reeling rhythm with some more serious words about being true to yourself. The final cut, "Same Ol' Story" lulls everything to a calm with something that sounds like a Southern Baptist hymn.
Some might say that Jungle of the Midwest Sea is too repetitive, with little variety of style, but it's a short album, it's a punk album, and it's made no claims to musical virtuosity or to being the Great New Thing. It's meant to be taken like one big deep breath, all at once, all or nothing. The Celtic sound gives it a gravity as well as a joviality and lends to it the weight of all the Irish sentiment and ennui that parallels everything punk music has always been about.
Having said that, not everyone is going to like this. This is likely one of those 'love it or hate it' albums for most people. I for one and am a fan of both punk music and Irish traditional music, and I found this album to be a very enjoyable listen. It's energizing, it's uplifting, it's got a lot to say in a short time without beating you over the head with pontifical proselytizing (which is a fancy way of saying it ain't preachy.)
So don your scally caps, raise your voices, and lift your pints* and enjoy Jungle of the Midwest Sea. It's got a quality of fun, rock, and spirituality that doesn't come along very often in the harder side of Christian music.- Review date: 5/17/07, written by Sean Lex
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