In the early-to-mid 2000s, while attending college in a sleepy southern Louisiana retirement city, I romanticized the music “scenes” of two cities thousands of miles away that I had never visited. New York featured bands who posed like they gave zero fucks (The Strokes), posed like they gave a thousand fucks (Interpol) and others whose music inspired fucking (Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and honest to god lovemaking (TV On The Radio). A few years after NYC’s millennial reemergence, Montreal cultivated a reputation for being a weirdo-pop Mecca, where fierce, jittery art abounded. Bands like Funeral-era Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and The Unicorns contributed to my Montreal obsession. When I drove to New Orleans in those days, a 60-mile trek along two-lane bayou highways, ageless swamps and bumper to bumper interstate gridlock, the CDs blasting from my car’s speakers oftentimes originated from one of the two aforementioned locales.

The Constantines never quite checked the cool boxes. They were Canadian but not from Montreal (they hailed from Guelph in southwest Ontario). They presented direct, earnest rock’n’roll at a time when their north of the border brethren often opted for theatrics. Their lead singer, Bry Webb, possessed the kind of gruff voice that bore witness to years of cigarettes, whiskey and long nights/early mornings. His voice didn’t play to the crowd, or stretch to the back of the room, so much as it invited intense one-on-one connections. And I loved Webb and his band, never more so than on the Constantines’ second albums, Shine a Light – a record that kept me company on lost adventures in Louisiana as an 18-year-old, cross-country drives in my mid-20s and early morning commutes on the NYC subway as a 30-year-old.

Among the bands from NYC and Montreal I cited above, The Constantines’ sound offered arguably the least polished, most authentic take on rock, an earnestness inherent in band influences such as Springsteen and Chicago author/cultural documentarian Studs Terkel. They could do quiet, slow-burning songs that exploded into fireworks (i.e., “Poison,” “Nighttime/Anytime (It’s Alright)”) just as well as they could blast a punk song that propelled me to bang along on my steering wheel (i.e., “National Hum,” “Tiger & Crane”). Webb wrote choruses that would cut your heart out and hand it back to you – all as you gazed upon life’s wonder and felt alive. Case in point, the chorus for “Shine a Light”: “You shine a light/ A light on me/ A light on me/ It gets me through.” The song also acts as the band’s live centerpiece, with all five members raising their hands in the air mid-song – a striking gesture of solidarity as simple and touching as the song’s lynchpin lyrics.

Shine a Light trades its title track’s slow-building uplift for giddy euphoria on the uptempo numbers “Young Lions” and “On To You,” the latter of which stands alongside the title track as arguably the album’s best song. “On To You” creates a wide-eyed, enraptured vibe from the time drummer Doug MacGregor’s toe-tapping percussion starts, joined by Will Kidman’s keyboard twinkles, two overlapping guitar parts and Webb’s gentle coos. The message imparted is love even when the world says “love is only trouble.” It’s an ethos integral to this album, and in later works by the band on the track “I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song” off their fourth and (so far) final album, Kensington Heights. Shine a Light concludes its 12-track journey with the rollicking political dispatch, “Sub-Domestic.” Like its kin, the final track invests in people and advocates love for one another. “If sanctuary still exists/ It’s among the shaking fists/ Seeking out a living free of/ the postures of politics,” Webb wearily sings in the chorus. A fiery harmonica solo and Webb’s declaration that his country’s “sick and sleepless” leaders are “caught up in the wire” sympathizing with people who don’t have the public interest at heart, bring the song and the album to its brilliant, impassioned end.

Ironically, though Shine a Light soundtracked parts of three decades and traveled with me from the gulf coast to the west coast and now to the east, I have never listened to it in its native land. One of these days when I make it to Canada I will be sure to check off this cool box for The Constantines, one of the great, unsung bands of the past 15 years.

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