Wes Tirey’s The Midwest Book Of The Dead, is an intimate study of the Midwestern condition. A double album, it tells of silos like chapels, spiders in the cane, of drunkards and saints and fugitives; it speaks of wild geese, and the good life, rhinestone suits, Coca Colas, and dishes drying on the rack. Sincerity, sensuality, and humor all reside in the candor and weight of these songs — its playing and arrangements, rich but unfettered, and Tirey’s voice grown several feet deeper and more sonorous. It is a sublime expansion of a trademark style he has come to call “rustic minimalism”.
The Midwest Book of the Dead finds Tirey both solo for acoustic laments and backed by close collaborators for barroom ballads, with Ryan Gustafson (Hiss Golden Messenger, Phil Cook, Charlie Parr) taking the helm as producer.
This assemblage of strangers and stories and snapshots of lives that make up The Midwest Book of the Dead, Tirey likens to “the book of photographs that you find at a Goodwill” — perhaps in Dayton, or Fayetteville, or in any of the stops on the highways that separate them. And while there are clues laid out across these lyrics, he believes there is an open-endedness to these songs. Still, the clues carry us on, into this land of high corn and pool halls, of farmboys, rusty Fords, and fathers like Elvis. Blue herons, hearts of steel, vinegar and piss; a land where people might rise “with everything to show, strong and comely as a colt.” They are songs told straight and sincere, but that are nonetheless beguiling; the work of a master songwriter, a craftsman, an artist; a man who will always be part of the Midwest.