Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I Am The Moon Dubbed Their Most Ambitious Studio Project to Date

Part I: I. Crescent & II. Ascension

Since I came across I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, which Tedeschi Trucks Band released on CD and digitally on Friday, I’ve been listening to their latest album and quickly come to dig it. It’s the second in a series of four I Am The Moon albums the band calls “the most ambitious studio project of their storied career” on their website. While I’m still new to the group’s music though not their name, I’ve no doubt that claim is true.

A series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs, all of which were inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem certainly sounds like an extraordinary effort. Intriguingly, that same poem also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. There’s a lot to unpack here, so please bear with me. 🙂

Tedeschi Trucks Band’s I’m The Moon includes four albums: I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

I Am The Moon is the fifth studio effort by Tedeschi Trucks Band, who were founded in 2010 and are led by married couple Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar). After touring together in 2007 as the Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival, Trucks and Tedeschi merged their respective groups to create a mighty 11-piece band. In 2015, they added another member and have since been a 12-piece – what an army of musicians!

Trucks, an incredible slide guitarist, started playing guitar at the age of nine and two years later performed his first paid gig. He was a former member of The Allman Brothers Band from 1999 until they disbanded in 2014. Derek is the nephew of the late Butch Trucks, a founder of the Allmans and their drummer. Tedeschi is no slouch either. She has played in bands since the age of 13, formed her first all-original group at 18, and in 1995 released the first of seven studio albums under her name. Tedeschi met Trucks in 1999 when her band opened for the Allmans. They hit it off, both personally and professionally.

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Led by Susan Tedeschi (guitar, vocals) and Derek Trucks (guitar), the group also includes original members Tyler Greenwell (drums, percussion), Mike Mattison (harmony vocals), Mark Rivers (harmony vocals) and Kebbi Williams (saxophone). Isaac Eady (drums & percussion), Alecia Chakour (harmony vocals), Elizabeth Lea (trombone), Ephraim Owens (trumpet), Brandon Boone (bass) and Gabe Dixon (keyboards & vocals) complete the current 12-piece lineup

Back to I Am The Moon. The Tedeschi Trucks Band’s latest project was inspired by Layla and Majnun, a poem written by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. The romantic narrative poem has been called the “Romeo and Juliet of the East” by English poet Lord Byron, who according to Wikipedia is considered one of the greatest English poets and a leading figure of the Romantic movement. I’m not a poetry expert, but I’m taking that statement at face value.

An album essay written by renowned American music journalist David Fricke notes I’m The Moon is inspired by classical literature but emotionally driven by the immediate drama, isolation and mourning of the pandemic era. There is the recurring fight for hope too, the reaching across damaged connections – all of that trial and urgency unfolding over a robust tapestry of blues, funk, country, jazz and gospel in collaborative writing, luminous singing and the instant fire of improvisation.

The initial idea to write an album based on the Layla and Majnun poem came from vocalist Mike Mattison in May 2020, two months after the group had been forced to stop touring by the pandemic. Nine months earlier, Tedeschi Trucks Band had performed the entire Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs live at the LOCKN’ Festival, which was released in July 2021 as Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’). Apparently, that created the initial spark.

“We get so carried away with the music – everyone knows it so well,” Mattison said, according to Fricke’s album essay. “That album is one point of view, Layla as this love object: ‘I want you, I can’t have you.'” But after Mattison read the original work, “I realized there are many things going on from different perspectives” and proposed “revisiting this source material as a band, as writers.”

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 01: Mike Mattison of Tedeschi Trucks Band performs at The Greek Theatre on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Golden/WireImage)

This review includes I’m The Moon: II. Ascension, as well as the first album, I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, which appeared on June 3. The corresponding films premiered on May 31 and June 28, respectively. The two remaining albums, I Am The Moon: III. The Fall and I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, are slated for July 29 and August 23, respectively, with their corresponding films scheduled to come out July 26 and August 23. I’m planning to review the two outstanding albums together in late August.

I’d say it’s finally time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the opener of I Am The Moon: I. Crescent, Hear My Dear. The beautiful tune was co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Gabe Dixon, the band’s keyboarder and one of the vocalists. Check out that warm sound – this is really sweet!

Another highlight on the first album of the series is the title track, which Dixon penned by himself. Pulling from Fricke’s album essay: “That was my idea, on the demo,” Dixon says of the space and crescendo at the end where Trucks solos, promising an even longer trip when this song goes into the setlists. “It was just me, playing some piano fills and singing over those chords. But of course, I thought, ‘This is going to be a solo section that can go however long we feel.'”

Let’s do one more from the first album: Circles ‘Round The Sun, co-written by Trucks, Tedeschi and Tyler Greenwell, one of the group’s two drummers. There’s a great soul vibe in that tune. With the gospel-like backing vocals, it also feels “churchy.” Check it out!

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

And, in case you’re curious, here’s the accompanying film. Like the other three films, it was directed by American documentary filmmaker and television writer Alix Lambert.

On to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension, the current album in the series, which finally prompted me to take a closer look at Tedeschi Trucks Band. Since I just highlighted it in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping the excellent Playing With My Emotions and go right to the second track. Ain’t That Something is credited to Trucks, Dixon, Mattison and Tedeschi. It’s another soulful gem. I could see Bonnie Raitt play that tune. For some reason, I had always thought of Tedeschi Trucks Band as a “straight blues rock band.” Sure, there’s some of that here, but they also blend in soul and gospel. It’s one tasty stew!

Blues rock-oriented So Long Savior is closer to what I pictured Tedeschi Trucks Band to sound like. Written together by Trucks, Mattison and Tedeschi, the song shuffles along nicely and has some cool slide guitar action.

The last track I’d like to highlight from the second album is the closer. Hold That Line, a slower beautiful tune, was written together by Trucks, Dixon, Tedeschi and Greenwell. It’s neat the group has all these different writers!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: II. Ascension:

The companion film for the album is here.

Some remaining thoughts: Why four albums, you may wonder when the 24 songs could have fit on two or three CDs. According to Fricke’s album essay, the group looked at records they love such as Axis: Bold as Love, the 1967 album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “It’s 36 minutes long,” Trucks said. “That’s the way to digest a record.” That’s probably true for my and older generations. When it comes to most young folks, I’m afraid they no longer listen to albums and instead create their own playlists. Then again, teens and twenty-something-year-olds probably aren’t the group’s target audience in the first place.

As I noted at the beginning of the post, which at this point you can probably barely remember, I’m still new to Teschedi Trucks Band. As such, it’s a bit tricky to put I Am The Moon in the broader context of the band’s catalog to date. But having been a music fan for more than 45 years, I’m confident enough to say when I see greatness. To me, this album series has the ingredients of a career-defining Mount Rushmore-type release. I’d be curious to hear from readers who are more familiar with the group whether they agree with my assessment.

I Am The Moon certainly makes me want to see the Tedeschi Trucks Band who have been on the road since June 24. The Wheels of Soul 2022 tour is coming next to Westville Music Bowl, New Haven, Conn. (July 6) before moving on to Philly’s great The Mann Center for the Performing Arts (July 8) and Midway Lawn, Essex Junction, Vt. (July 9). Their U.S. tour concludes with a series of gigs at New York City’s Beacon Theatre in late September and early October before launching a European leg. The full schedule is here.

Last but not least, to all my readers in the United States, if you celebrate it, have a Happy Fourth of July. Most of all stay safe!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s hard to believe another Sunday is upon us – I feel I just wrote the previous installment of The Sunday Six! For first-time visitors, the idea of this recurring feature is to celebrate different genres of music from different decades, six tunes at a time. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!

Julian Lage/Boo’s Blues

I’d like to start where I left off yesterday’s Best of What’s New: Julian Lage, an American jazz guitarist and composer who released his solo debut album in March 2009. I first came across Lage’s music on Friday in connection with his new album Squint and immediately fell in love with his guitar tone! Borrowing from yesterday’s post, according to his Apple Music profile, Lage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Here’s another track from Lage’s new album, which also features bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King: Boo’s Blues. Beautiful music for a Sunday morning!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/One Rainy Wish

I trust Jimi Hendrix doesn’t need an introduction. One Rainy Wish is a tune from the second album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love, which first appeared in the UK in December 1967, followed by release in the US the following month. The song wasn’t on my radar until my streaming music provider served it up as a listening suggestion the other day. Also known as Golden Rose, One Rainy Wish was written by Hendrix and recorded in October 1967 at Olympic Sound Studios in London, together with Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums). Based on the lyrics, the song was inspired by a dream Hendrix had. Quoting the Hendrix biography Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, Wikipedia notes the song is “creak[ing] with radical harmonies and rhythmic concepts, not least the fact that the verse is in 3/4 time while the chorus is in 4/4.” Songfacts adds Hendrix used an octavia, an effects pedal that reproduces the input signal from a guitar eight notes higher in pitch, mixing it with the original note and adding distortion. The octavia had been designed for Hendrix by Roger Mayer, a then-21-year-old electric engineer wunderkind. One Rainy Day Wish also became the B-side to the U.S. single Up From the Skies, which was released in February 1968, the only single from the album.

Bob Dylan/Series of Dreams

This next selection of the Bob Dylan tune Series of Dreams is a bit out of left field. Initially, I had planned to feature Angelina, a song I had come across recently and immediately thought would make a great pick for The Sunday Six. Dylan first released Angelina in March 1991 on his 3-CD box set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. However, I couldn’t find a YouTube clip, something that rarely happens. This bummer prompted me to check whether other songs from this box set are available on YouTube and led to Series of Dreams. Dylan first recorded the tune in March 1989 for his 26th studio album Oh Mercy that was released in September of the same year. But Series of Dreams was ultimately omitted from the album. The version that ended up on the box set is a remix of the original with overdubs added in January 1991. Dylan also included an alternate take of the song on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006. While finding Series of Dreams was entirely circumstantial, I’m quite happy with it, so farewell, Angelina! 🙂

Joni Mitchell/This Flight Tonight

The first time I heard This Flight Tonight was the cover by Scottish rock band Nazareth, which must have been in the late ’70s on the radio back in Germany. I had no idea then that this tune was penned by Joni Mitchell. Another prominent example is Woodstock, which I first heard by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the DĂ©jĂ  Vu album and simply assumed it was their song. I was very young back then! Anyway, Mitchell recorded This Flight Tonight for her widely renowned fourth studio album Blue, which was released in June 1971. The song tells of her regrets as she leaves her lover on a flight and wishes to return. The entire album, which Mitchell made after her breakup with Graham Nash and during her relationship with James Taylor, revolves around different aspects of relationships. While I always liked Mitchell’s songs, it took me a while to get used to her voice, which I felt was very high, especially on her earlier songs.

Tracy Chapman/Fast Car

I still remember when Tracy Chapman’s eponymous debut album came out in April 1988. Two songs from it, Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution and Fast Car, were very popular on the radio back in Germany. The combination of Chapman’s powerful voice, great lyrics and the relative simplicity of her songs blew me away, and I got the CD immediately. To this day, I believe it’s incredible. Chapman has since released seven additional studio albums. Her most recent, Our Bright Future, dates back to November 2008. There is also a Greatest Hits compilation that came out in November 2015. While Chapman has not been active for many years, she has not officially retired from music. In fact, last November, the night before the U.S. Presidential election, she made a rare TV appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers with a clip of her performing Talkin’ ‘about a Revolution and asking Americans to vote. Here’s a short related clip from Rolling Stone. While all of Chapman’s albums charted in the U.S. and numerous other countries, her debut remains her most successful. It topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and various European countries, including the UK and Germany. Here’s Fast Car. I absolutely love this song and hope eventually we will hear more from Tracy Chapman. She’s only 57 years old!

Green Day/Boulevard of Broken Dreams

This Sunday Six installment has been heavy on singer-songwriters, so I’d like to wrap it up with some rock from the present century: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. Yes, that track from the band’s seventh studio album American Idiot from September 2004 certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure. And while I generally don’t follow Green Day, it’s one catchy tune I still dig. The song’s lyrics were written by lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, with the music being credited to the entire band. Perhaps, not surprisingly Boulevard of Broken Dreams became Green Day’s biggest mainstream hit in America, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and raking up U.S. sales of over 2 million copies as of 2010. By 2009, the tune had sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, making it the ninth-highest selling single of the 2000-2009 decade. Green Day are rocking on to this day. Since American Idiot, they have released six additional studio albums, most recently in February 2020. According to their website, Green Day are also scheduled to kick off an eight-week, 22-date U.S. tour in Dallas on July 24.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Green Day website; YouTube