The Constantines – for all intents and purposes – were a punk band. They played big, noisy rock music heavily influenced by the likes of Fugazi and The Clash, and their live shows invariably found the Ontario-based group funneling all of their energy into an earnest, yet intense spectacle. But The Constantines also transcended punk, infusing their intense and fiery anthems with an earthy, Springsteen-esque melodic quality on albums like 2003’s Shine A Light and 2005’s Tournament Of Hearts.
With all the talk of the Constantines reunion this summer, Bry Webb's second solo record risks being overshadowed by the return of the art-punk giants. And that's a shame: the pensive and patient side of Webb's songwriting first began to show itself on Constantines' last record, 2008's Kensington Heights, and then on his 2011 solo debut, Provider. The strides he's made to fully realize his vision on Free Will are incredibly evident: the at times ambiguous poetry of past releases has disappeared and what remains is a vivid take on the world around him.
The recently reunited Constantines are a band from Ontario, Canada, but it might be more revealing to remember one of their great early songs was called “Arizona”. The band created rollicking, rough-edged rock songs, kicking up a dust that filled up desert-sized spaces around them. Theirs was a feat of fury and energy, but also of scope and density.
You spend your formative years grinding from one gig to another, playing cathartic blue collar rock & roll and living the attendant lifestyle, and any transition from that is going to be filled with complications. Of course, Bry Webb, leader of Canada’s beloved Constantines, was conscious of that even as he went through it — the foreboding sense of youth passing is what gave Fugazi-meets-the-Clash desperation to classic Cons songs like“Young Lions,” “Soon Enough” and “Time Can Be Overcome. ” Webb transitioned to desperado troubadour on his 2011 solo debut, Provider, a lateral move that embodied the change in fundamental ways.
There’s a freedom offered when one strikes out on his own. No longer writing parts distinct for each band member to play, a solo artist has the ability to focus in on the song craft itself, and worry less about the arrangement. It’s no surprise, then, that most solo artists tend to take a step back and focus more on traditional songwriting. Bry Webb’s sophomore solo album fits the bill.