Jason Webley is one of those remarkable little-known well-known people. He tours from Australia to Moldova, yet hardly anyone has heard of him. I take some pride in knowing that he comes from my part of the globe, the state of Washington. He found his beginnings taking up the accordion while attending the University of Washington and playing as a busker in the streets of Seattle. Jason has since taken on a grander scope to his music, often being compared to Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, with their at times highly sophisticated composition, paired with a deeply Russian influence from folk artists such as Vladimir Vysotsky. He even works that gruff, manly Russian vocal voicing into some of his music — especially his earlier works.
“Only Just Beginning” is thus far Jason’s most appealing release. He had already come a long way from his debut album, “Viaje”, which was recorded in his kitchen. The album weaves feelings of desire, longing, despair, and desperation into its fabric, and yet one can also see embedded into this dark fabric glimmering gems of optimism. This range is evident from the despondent, instrumentally piano-led “Balloon Feather Boat Tomato” to the undeniably chipper guitar-based tune “May Day”. The two shining moments on “Only Just Beginning” are the fan-favorites “Icarus” and “Map”. These two songs are so beloved that he even played them in concert when he forgot his guitar in Georgia. He had to try and remember how to play “Map” on accordion.
“Icarus” is an exercise in anxiety and tension, with outstanding dynamics. The song begins with the nervous plucking of arpeggiated chords on Jason’s acoustic guitar, working into stabbing strums before the rest of the band joins in for the groove. The speaker of the piece tells of his struggles against an unidentified sickness, and compares this struggle to the story of Daedalus and Icarus’s imprisonment and attempted escape.
Jason Webley knowingly advises his audience never to write the song “Map” if they have a girlfriend. It paints a picture of a lonely and hopeless land. The chorus says all that needs to be said:
I am not your lover
I’m the map you use to find him
The themes are matched nicely by a klezmer-inspired solo by the clarinetist, Brant Campbell, which straddles an intonation somewhere between laughing and weeping. Jason’s accordion sighs gently in the background. Michael McQuilken takes a break from drums and plays a type of xylophone for the distinctive percussive accompaniment. After the lonely leading figures of the story come to a mutual agreement that they are both truly looking for other people, the song ends quietly with a discordant whimper.
From despondent acceptance to joyful tidings from the coming Spring, in “Only Just Beginning” Jason Webley and friends masterfully crafted hopeful songs for the lost and wandering. They are songs that I call home.
Sadly, Jason ceased touring on November 11, 2011. He has decided to try other things, which I am excited to see come to light. Should he resume touring, I will be among those on the road greeting him enthusiastically, singing “Welcome Home Forever Once Again”.