Asa is a song for at Bry’s son. Carry on and play, he says, Let the day be long. Let the shadows grow to the end of the road. I will carry you home. He gets across the joy and beauty of new fatherhood so simply. On Asa, Webb shows us that even punks can be proud fathers. The emotion is raw, the writing direct. This is a simply a beautiful tune.
This blog was almost named after a Constantines song. When I was in high school, with no cable and dial-up internet in small-town Ontario, there wasn’t much by way of culture. Hungry for anything current, I used to get nearly all my cultural cues from Ben Raynor, who wrote about youth culture in the Entertainment section of the Toronto Star. On his recommendation alone, when my family made it into Guelph every couple weeks (there was no place to buy music in my town), I would buy CDs that I had never heard before. Some of my all-time favourite records come from this era of my life: Who will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? by the Unicorns, S/T by Cuff the Duke, You Forgot It In People by Broken Social Scene, and Shine a Light by the Constantines. There was excitement in hearing sounds and ideas that I had never heard before. This music was loud, experimental, and more than anything (to me) urban. This stuff was my escape.
In comparison, the suburban punk and nu-metal that was played ad infinitum in basements and at absent-parent house parties sounded so pale and rote. Distortion and shouting were par for the course, but seemed so paradoxically devoid of emotion. The Constantines were different. They used distortion to channel rage, anxiety, and pain. They wrote of modern masculinity, vacant posturing, and the death of rock and roll. Bry Webb shouted and meant it. Theirs was a mature, poetic anger that was triumphant and defiant, not self-centred and vapid like so many others.
Ten years later, the Constantines are gone. Bry Webb has moved (ironically for me) to Guelph, and has started a family. His new solo record, Provider (out on Idee Fixe) is all about fatherhood, marriage, and the next chapter in his life. This record retains the stark, vivid lyrics that defined his Constantines writing, but he places these songs on a sparse, atmospheric backdrop of pedal steels, acoustic guitars, and little else.
Critics often compared the Constantines to Springsteen, for their open-hearted lyrics and incendiary live shows. If that was the case, then this record is Webb’s Nebraska. Understated and haunting, this record finds the troubadour at full lyrical maturity, and he lets his voice stand open and naked, unencumbered by the Cons’ distortion and drums. As he opined on a recent Q interview – any wrong notes are right out in the open. This gives the record a very intimate and personal feel. However, Webb is cautious to abandon the punk spirit, which he says is more about economy and immediacy than about fuzz pedals and loud drumming. These unadorned arrangements, by that logic, are punk rock distillate.