Winfred E. Eye – The Dirt Tier

Winfred E. Eye
The Dirt Tier

The vocals on The Dirt Tier are the first thing you will notice, because a voice this distinct would be nearly impossible to ignore. This is what will make or break the album for most people – you will either hate the vocals or find this style of “singing” strangely endearing. Imagine the voice of that guy asking you for change on the street that sounds like he’s just drank a few huge bottles of whiskey and then sucked down a carton of cigarettes mixed up with a Depression-era bluesman and a singing sideshow act and you’ve almost got a clear picture of what’s going on here.

Winfred E. Eye isn’t some eclectic singer-songwriter, though; it’s a band named after frontman Aaron Calvert’s grandfather. Calvert (guitar & vocals) is accompanied here by Craig Adams (guitar), Josh Kilbourn (drums), Mikel Garmendia (bass & guitar), Dax Pierson (keyboards & vocals), and Chandan Narayan (bass). From the sound of this album, I fully expected the group to be based in the swampy South or at least somewhere significantly remote, but the members call Oakland, California their home.
The music on The Dirt Tier is very laidback and almost subtle at times. Jangly guitar, a simple bass lines, soft percussion, and small accents with the keyboards or a harmonica are the norm. The band’s sound is not quite blues or country, but not aggressive enough to be pure rock n’ roll, and it’s entirely too dark to be straight up Americana. Darkness is what seems to define this album in many forms – the sadness and loneliness of an alcoholic after the bars close, the despair of an insomniac waiting for the sun to rise, or the stark shuffle of a bum wandering the streets all night long. Along with the darkness you get plenty of the dirt, girt, and haziness you’d expect from the creatures that inhabit the night.

The Dirt Tier is a short album at only nine tracks, but the languid nature of the songs makes it feel much longer. The first three tracks, “Run Along,” “Let’s Call it Hijinx,” and the title track, are the strongest pieces and seem to offer up the best aspects of the band’s rootsy songwriting style. “Champ the Phantom” is also choice for its rolling guitar work and rambling rhythm. The other songs here are decent, but they are slower and less eclectic and therefore just don’t stand out as much.

Winfred E. Eye is a group that I will be keeping tabs on. I find myself drawn to Aaron Calvert’s unique vocals, though I can see that what makes me love Winfred E. Eye will likely be the same thing that causes others to hate it. Just being a fan of roots music or Americana won’t be enough to bring this band to the top of your list. If you enjoy rough vocals a la Tom Waits, then Aaron Calvert might appeal to you too.