On his fifth full-length release, Seattle darling Jason Webley has done a fairly remarkable thing. While maintaining a high level of composition as in his previous albums, he's moved into a vocal and playing style closer to his live sound. It's that live sound (and the occasional spurring of a pirate takeover of a ferry by the audience) that has built Webley's reputation, and here he shows the non-locals why. The vocals are shouted but melodic, the accordion is given a much more rock sound than previous albums, and the piano is minimized in favor of a thick drumbeat and a few key accompanists. And yet, Webley's compositional structure is still dense and energetic, using the rhythm section and a violin to hold together an otherwise sparse combination of vocals and guitar. Admittedly, this move back to more straight rock may alienate a few members of the fan base that has built up through Webley's excellent previous albums, which had a tendency toward ballads. However, if they hold on for a few songs, those fans will recognize the same underlying themes in the content, and in some cases in the songwriting itself (a standout piece of heartbreak comes in "Disappear," for example). The Cost of Living will bring a new sound for fans who have picked up on Webley's more contemplative side, but it will be more of a return for fans who have listened to his shanty-laden rock. Both groups should be impressed by the end product.
AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg