Jason Webley – Only Just Beginning

Jason Webley
Only Just Beginning

When I first encountered Jason Webley’s music a few years ago, he struck me as a modern-day minstrel equipped with an accordion and a gravelly, whiskey-soaked voice who sang tunes about absinthe and vegetables. Many of his songs were infused with an old-world Eastern European feel, and it was easy to picture him being just as as comfortable playing a street corner for change as a local watering hole. Webley was equal parts vagabond, performance artist, and poetic crooner.

From the first time I listened to this year’s Only Just Beginning, it was clear that Jason Webley has changed course and found a more solid foundation for his music. This release is much more laidback than his previous efforts and decidedly less scattered sounding. On Only Just Beginning, Webley discards the gruff vocals that garnered him more than his fair share of comparisons to Tom Waits in favor of his normal singing voice that only made brief appearances on previous efforts. He also focuses more on piano-oriented numbers as opposed to accordion-based songs. In addition to his own guitar, accordion, and piano playing, Webley brings in a host of other musicians to provide bass, percussion, violin, viola, cello, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, and even a tuba.

Most of the tracks here are best described as piano-based folk or rock music. “February Relaxing Her Fingers After a Brief Winter’s Grip” is a soft ballad where Webley tells us “old words are sticking to my lips like ashes.” From this opener, it is clear that the album title refers to a rebirth of sorts for Jason Webley. Although he stages his own “birth” and “death” each year as part of a performance, this time around the resurrection seems to be of change and reflection. Other songs like “Baloon Feather Tomato,” “Coda,” and “With” have slight jazz influences carefully nestled in Jason’s piano playing.

Jason’s Eastern European inspiration still shines through on a number of the 10 pieces offered, and these are where his brilliance is most obvious – particularly for new listeners. “Icarus” alternates between a cabaret feel and a gypsy style reel. The strings here are gorgeous, and Webley’s vocals follow the pace of the song, moving from languid to frenzied within a few measures. On “May Day,” Jason breaks out the accordion for a frolic through some Irish-sounding folk music. “Map” and “Viaje” are reminiscent of some of Webley’s older work, just without the previous vocal style.

Only Just Beginning is an exceptional album with a fairly diverse range of styles. The production is quite good considering Jason Webley recorded the album himself, and every note and lyric to be found here is completely sincere. Although enigmatic by almost any standards, Jason seems to attract fans who are searching for and experiencing the same love of life he is. Only Just Beginning is music for people for whom feeling, whether happy or sad, is the meaning of it all.