“Provider,” Bry Webb (Idee Fixe)
Bry Webb commits passive-aggressive manipulation with “Provider,” a solo release in which the sum is lesser than the parts.
The Constantines frontman strays from his on-hiatus band’s rock format to a stripped-down approach.
Like, totally stripped down. Often just sparse guitar, halting vocal delivery and some lap and/or pedal steel.
Many of “Provider’s” songs work well individually, as the Canadian performer mines penetrating depth in the atmosphere with his near-solitude.
He explores family, telling his son on “Asa,” “At the end of the day, I will carry you home,” and reflecting on what it’s like to be “just a man” when his mate is giving birth. He examines tough jobs, as on the desolate “Rivers of Gold,” where he sings of “making a decent living in the Yukon Territory,” and also on the gloomy “Undertaker,” a first-person account that’s appropriately lifeless apart from guest horns.
That pervasive listlessness, employed to good effect on some tracks, becomes a weighty albatross for “Provider” overall.
Also, Webb’s lyrics are only fitfully engaging — ranging from “Persistent Spirit’s” opening salvo, “I’m sending a bird in a steel box full of alcohol,” to the duh-no-kidding observation, “We’ll never be again what we were when we were younger” on “Ex-Punks,” the lone track with a prominent rhythm. Meanwhile, his soft voice (raspy on occasion) isn’t striking enough to carry his languid delivery.
Other than the flavorful, lonely steel by Mike Brooke (pedal) and Rich Burnett (lap), there’s just not much else happening.
Sure, single songs could work as well as a shot of bourbon at a pity party. But by the time Webb settles into the yawning misery of “Lowlife” and the bleak closer “Viva,” many listeners will feel like tuning out or opening a vein.
And it’s not worth dying for.
Rating (five possible): 3