Music : Death Vessel on a high note
In 2005, at Aboveground Records, Joel Thibodeau, who plays under the cryptic moniker Death Vessel, stepped up to the mic and captured everyone's attention.
Local songwriter Jemima James, a supporting act at the show, refers to him as "unexpectedly childlike in appearance and voice, but with an astonishingly mature musicality."
The sound is indie and new folk, with a deep soul that brings the unique American blues singer Elizabeth Cotten to mind.
Mr. Thibodeau has a refreshingly concise approach to his lyrics, but the sentiment behind them is driven by the earnestness of his delivery. Although an accomplished guitar player, his playing is often overshadowed by his soft, high - some might say soprano - register, one that creates a haunting musical landscape.
A short man with black hair that falls well past his shoulders, Mr. Thibodeau is a captivating presence.
Born in Berlin, Germany, he moved to Kennebunkport, Maine, where he grew up. His first album, "Stay Close" (2005), is filled with lyrical memorandums of the Maine woods and coastal life. The selections strike a relatable chord with the experiences of the working class Islanders who he has come to understand.
"I briefly worked for a friend of mine as a stern man on his lobster boat," Mr. Thibodeau says. "It's pretty relentless work emptying lobster traps, banding claws and refilling the bait bags with herring, all while minding not to get yanked overboard by tightening lines of the string. I also worked as a driver for a fish market delivering to restaurants up and down the southern Maine coast."
Death Vessel has seen success in the last few years. Recently signed to SubPop Records, Mr. Thibodeau spent the last year touring Europe and the States with singer Jose Gonzales, as well as touring with Iron and Wine. He has recently recorded his second album, "Nothing is Precious Enough for Us."
With three years between his first album and his newest, many wondered, why the long wait?
"It just took a while to be complete. Moving three times between records probably had something to do with it," he responds. "Several people have asked this same question in different ways and I'm a little taken aback. I put out records when I think they're finished."
The difference in sounds between albums is distinct. The first album, "Stay Close," is slightly more accessible because of the overall catchiness of some songs. "Nothing is Precious Enough for Us" has more production, a higher fidelity sound with more overdubs, and it is stylistically multifarious. While less personal at first hearing, it becomes more rewarding. "The guitar and vocal melodies come on their own. After that, it's lots and lots of pencil work," he explains.
Brought to the Island by Chris Liberato and his Whale of a Label productions in association with Che's Lounge, Death Vessel's second performance on Martha's Vineyard will take place Monday, Sept. 22, at Che's Lounge. It will be his first with a backing band which consists of Micah Blue Smaldone on bass and backing vocals, Don Larson electric guitar, open-back banjo and ukulele, Mike Savage on the drums, with Joel singing and playing guitar and mandolin. Micah Blue Smaldone has been serving a double duty on Death Vessel's current United States tour as both an opening solo act and as a bassist and a backing vocalist.
Death Vessel with Micah Blue Smaldone, and Island band Chorus of Arrows, at Che's Lounge, Monday, Sept. 22, at 7:30 pm. $10 admission.
Freelance writer and musician Colin Ruel is the booking manager for Che's Lounge in Vineyard Haven. 508-693-8555.