Joe Tullos (Big Sun) Gets Eclectic Send-off in Posthumous LP ‘Vessels’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Listening to Joe Tullos’ latest, Vessels, you’re struck by two immediate feelings: This is an amazingly talented musician both musically and lyrically, and with his passing in 2020 the world will no longer get to hear new music from this remarkably underrated artist.

The Louisiana native singer-songwriter penned music for others when not recording with his band Big Sun or as a solo musician (though sadly he was not more prolific as one would hope considering how strong this album is). Vessels is a beautifully eclectic swan song suggesting everyone from Mark Everett and Warren Zevon to Harry Nilsson and Elvis Costello. 

Careening in and out of genres and not afraid to dip into pop music, across nearly a dozen tracks, Tullos covers a lot of territory laying on the building, loud guitars on “Leave This Town” and pulling out the kazoos on “Alpha Ray”. Coming toward the tail end of the record, “Don’t Break On Me,” duetting with Melanie Scott is almost shattering in its heartbreaking plea to stick around. The album closes on the piano ballad “Next Town,” a song about moving on to what’s next (“The only time I’m feeling right is when I’m wandering”), a truly prophetic album closer.    

The record was recorded in the New Orleans studio of his longtime friend and bandmate drummer Kevin Aucoin, who helped produce the record along with his Big Sun bandmate Mark ‘Byrdawg’ Dillon and Michael Paz. Tullos died of cancer just two weeks after he finished recording. The album title is a reference to his wish for his ashes to be placed in a glass sphere and put in the ocean off the North Carolina coast where the Gulf Stream would carry him away. Appropriately enough, the album cover features a sphere balanced on top of clear blue water. The album serves as a near perfect intro and goodbye to an audience who may just now be discovering Tullos and realizing a talent the world has just lost.  

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