Grinding his tongue. jeff harms

For the past 11 years, Jason Webley has dragged his shaggy hair, scruffy goatee, collection of accordions, and gravelly voice all over the western hemisphere. He's gathered devoted followings from Oregon to Russia and most countries in between.

You can sense the scope of Webley's appeal from the musicians who will accompany him for his 11th anniversary concert: Jherek Bischoff (of experimental rock bands the Dead Science and the Parenthetical Girls), Amanda Palmer (from the punk-cabaret duo the Dresden Dolls), and Orkestar Zirkonium (Seattle's raucous Balkan brass band).

The concert commemorates the day Webley recorded his first album with a bunch of friends in the kitchen of his Wallingford home. He had 1,000 copies printed, he says: "Because that was how many you printed back in 1998. Less was very expensive, actually." He hit the street the next day to busk for the first time. He didn't realize it was the start of a long career of playing streets, squares, and stages in dozens of countries; "I just had an embarrassingly huge stack of 950 CDs left and needed some strategy to get rid of them." A singer for the postindustrial band Tchkung! saw Webley on the street and asked if he'd open for them.

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I may have seen him that day, too. I first saw Webley sometime in 1998, growling out his songs about intoxication, travel, and catastrophe: "Come on old and young, sing while your teeth grind through your tongue/We're making music that tears itself apart." I remember standing there thinking that guy sounds like Tom Waits—a comparison that has followed him persistently. Others insist he's the second coming of Russian folk-pop icon Vladimir Vysotsky. But his sound and his lyrics have broadened over the years. Webley still growls out drinking chanteys, but has also started writing rock 'n' roll, playful folk, and jazzy punk (he grew up listening to Operation Ivy and Jawbreaker). One of his latest, which could top the children's charts, begins: "And if my cat looks scared, it's because it knows it won't be going to heaven/If you ask how many saints it takes, the answer's 11."

"Eleven" is one of Webley's favorite words. (As is "tomato"—he favors three syllables.) "Jason Webley" has 11 letters. So does "anniversary." This is his 11th anniversary. Add up the digits in 2009 and you get 11. Maybe this is the Jason Webley concert the world has been waiting for. recommended

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