Tuesday, August 14, 2012
The Cost of Living - Jason Webley
The Cost of Living
Jason Webley was just a name to me until I saw him open for Amanda Palmer at her Halloween show at the El Rey last year. He put on an amazing show that had the crowd doing odd things with carrots and spinning around like little children, well you had to be there, it was a lot better than it sounds. I was knocked out by his showmanship and charisma. Afterwards I realized that I was not sure whether his music was all that good or if it had just been theatrics that had impressed me. Listening to this record, I know that the music was indeed good. My favorite songs are the three up-tempo numbers with a prominent gypsy flavor. "Ways to Love" alternates between a rollicking tune and a slow section with a gorgeous string riff that sticks with me long after I'm done listening to the album. Webley and his violinist, L. Alex Guy, have a real knack for coming up with impressive string motifs that enrich the songs. The song describes a rough but effective upbringing. "Little Sister" gets me bopping although it is one of the darkest songs on the album with its theme of incest and destruction. It makes me think of Amanda Palmer, particularly since it has a bit of a cabaret feel to it. It is based on a musical theme by the Czech singer/accordionist Jana Vebrova. "There's Not A Step We Can Take That Does Not Bring Us Closer" uses a fast/slow dynamic featuring the hardest riff on the album alternating with the string/horn section delivering sumptuous, majestic musical passages. Webley shouts out lusty and passionate lyrics like a sergeant delivering orders. This song was the highlight of his show for me. The other songs on the album embrace a wide variety of styles. "Still" opens the album. Like several of Webley's songs, it starts slow and builds in strength as Webley adds instruments and sings more forcefully. It has some of the best lyrics on the album as he describes a romance where the flame has gone out. "They Just Want" reminds me of latter day Leonard Cohen with its moody music and darkly romantic lyrics. There is more evocative string work on this song. "Clear" sounds more like early Cohen with its driving, relentless acoustic guitar riff and its poetic lyrics depicting a disintegrating relationship. "Raise Them Higher" calls to mind Gordon Lightfoot particularly in the resonant timber of Webley's voice and the catchy chorus. This song offers another memorable string riff. "Meet Your Bride" finds Webley delivering the lyrics in a gravelly drawl that makes me think of Bob Dylan's recent work. Webley sings about having extremely ambivalent feelings about one's wife and the song builds in intensity until he is howling the words like Tom Waits. "Almost Time To Go" and "Disappear" are quiet ballads. They are pretty songs with poetic lyrics of mild recrimination and regret. I don't think Webley is quite a strong enough singer to really put them over. He has a nice voice, but it is not all that expressive on slow songs, the songs seem a little empty. He does better with "Back To You Again" where he pulls out his Gordon Lightfoot voice again to deliver a song about release and acceptance. This is a very enjoyable album with intelligent lyrics, a theatrical atmosphere and some exotic Eastern European flavor. If you are into colored vinyl, this is a really good one. The vinyl is black infused with a bright orange design that resembles solar flares. Very cool. The whole album package is very attractive. Recommended to fans of Gogol Bordello who wish that Eugene Hutz didn't have such a strong Ukrainian accent.