Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
There is no other voice like the one that Joel Thibodeau has on his persons. To see the pint-sized Rhode Islander with the kind of long and running black hair of a Mastodon freak and the cowboy boots of a Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris disciple isn't to hear him sing. To do that and to carry on a conversation with the man would be like any other, a seemingly innocuous conversation with a guy who you'd feel comfortable asking pesky questions about little troubles going on with your car.
It would be simply what it was and nothing that could be anticipated to boggle you up, to shake your ears and brain upside down as if they'd been accidentally popped into the drying machine and set to tumble. When Thibodeau sings, you are suddenly shot into the orbit of wholesale confusion. You have it in economy-sized helpings, to go along with an epidemic of delirium because in those first few seconds of listening to him you've made a snap realization that nothing at all makes sense if this is really happening, if this is really him. If he is him that is and you've already determined that there's no doubt that he is him, so you're left with a throbbing piece of oddness for the puzzler. His voice is pretty, very pretty, and not really in the way that labelmates Sam Beam and James Mercer's voices are pretty. This is woman pretty. This is pretty like flower beds and daisy chains and Dolly Parton or Karen Carpenter pretty.
Death Vessel is the recording project that Thibodeau uses to display this most unusual and breathtaking voice. It slaps crisp in the bends with classic American folk flanges and tassels, striking range and a full-bodied scent of bygone decades and centuries, as if it were carrying on like the light of stars, far into the future from the early 1800s from settler times, when all food was cooked under the stars or relatively so and men and women both were wrestling bears and were generally all tougher than nails. These were the tails, written and sung by the shy boy with the Rudolph-like singing voice that no one could understand except for the other person in camp who wanted to be a dentist or something in an age of no dentists.
That dentist boy somehow was a whiz at the banjo and the friendship stuck back when kids their age were dying off with regularity because hardship reminiscent to that which they were plunged into doesn't do favors and so they found ways to sing and play these songs in such a way that they were projected into the light jet stream that would live to find a doppelganger to breath into them the spinal fluids and the eyesight and heartiness that would allow them to be recognized by others. They persevered through time, through the railroad days and past all of the decaying buffalo carcasses lying by the sides of the tracks, from a period where there were no recording devices, into Thibodeau's host body. He alone is able to make these songs of considerable heartache and weariness whole, to give them the body that they deserve. They are words of a crippled dog, of men learning to live, of men sickened by travel and toil. They are words from the locket of a bride-to-be. They are lines stolen from the ether. They are the crumbs of times that do not exist anymore and they echo like the cold bones they come from, lo those many years ago.
Death Vessel Official Site
Sub Pop Records