Winfred E. Eye’s Aaron Calvert sings in an old-coot faux Howlin’ Wolf croak, and gets beauty out of the creaks in his croak, though not nearly as much as the Wolf did; nor does he achieve the Wolf’s ferocity. So on The Dirt Tier, the couple of tracks where Aaron is at his most full-bodied are the least effective—the old-coot voice is an old beatnik shtick, and in the 2000s it functions more as a mask than as an expressive instrument. But actually, on most of these songs the voice can’t quite find its body—I’m assuming this is deliberate—and that’s when it’s at its best, since in disintegration it mingles with the rest of the instruments, adding a wheezy sorrow.
The music is a slow pre-blues shuffle where the scrapes and scratches and simple riffs find their beauty unerringly. A mouth harp will play fragments that only halfway coalesce into melody. And the words are about not being whole. “Maybe you’re sick because you’re supposed to be before you die.” Dissolution as a form of recalcitrance, defeat as a stance. People living a sketchy life and deliberately not filling in the sketch. This is also a beatnik shtick, but with enough originality here to justify itself aesthetically. Even when the lyrics stop short of my ability to comprehend them—which is usually—they give the feel of people choosing the scrap heap as their home, while their bodies break down. On the title song, they eat cat shit as if it were chocolate. “It don’t taste no good; we’re only pretending.” So defeat is just defeat, I guess. And now what?