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

Part II: I Am The Moon: III. The Fall & I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell

Last Friday (Aug 26), Tedeschi Trucks Band released I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell, the fourth and final installment of their I Am the Moon four-album series. This is the second part of my review of what has been called the band’s most ambitious studio effort to date. You can read the first part here.

Borrowing from my previous post, I Am the Moon is a series of four albums, each accompanied by a film, with a total of 24 songs. The extraordinary project was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem. Intriguingly, the very 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.

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

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!

The 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’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s start with two tracks off I Am The Moon: III. The Fall, which was released on July 29. Here’s the opener Somehow, penned by the band’s keyboarder and vocalist Gabe Dixon, together with external songwriter Tia Sillers. The album’s accompanying essay by renowned American music journalist David Fricke describes the tune as “an easy-rolling groove that soon turns into full-blown soul power.” I could totally picture Bonnie Raitt singing it – love this!

Yes We Will is more bluesy. Penned by Susan Tedeschi, the tune is much closer to what I had associated with Tedeschi Trucks Band before listening to I Am The Moon. From Fricke’s essay: “Derek and I have so many blues roots,” she says, “and I really wanted to show those roots, where this band is at.” The result is early-Seventies B.B. King arm in arm with the Staple Singers, while the guitar breaks affirm the rise-and-shine in the lyrics and Tedeschi’s vocal. Come on, wake up people, can’t you see it now? Time is right now, she declares as Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour bring the train-to-glory in the chorus. You can’t help but believe it. Great song!

Here’s a Spotify link to I Am The Moon: III. The Fall:

Here’s the companion film for the third album:

On to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell. My first pick here is Soul Sweet Song, co-written by Derek Trucks, Gabe Dixon and the band’s harmony vocalist Mike Mattison. From Fricke’s album essay: “That was Gabe,” Trucks says of Dixon, who co-wrote this song with the guitarist and Mattison. “He had the idea of writing it about Kofi” – original TTB keyboard player Kofi Burbridge, who was ill when Dixon joined in late 2018, at first on a temporary basis. (Burbridge died in February 2019, on the day his last album with the group, Signs, was released.) “Gabe writing lyrics about Kofi (I feel your rhythm moving me/’Cause your soul’s sweet song’s still singing) – that one hit me between the eyes.” A special guest on congas, Marc Quiñones – a longtime bandmate with Trucks in the Allman Brothers Band – adds a decisive and familiar, rhythmic element to the celebration.

The last track I’d like to call out is I Can Feel You Smiling, which perfectly sums up my sentiment about this album series. One last time quoting from Fricke’s album essay: This sparsely arranged ballad “was fun to write,” says Trucks, who “woke up in the morning, had the tune and put it on my phone. It reminded me of something Oliver Wood” – singer-guitarist in the Wood Brothers and a longtime friend of TTB – “would have written, so I sent it to him. He wrote back, ‘Man, I woke up the last few days with that melody in my head. Do you mind if I write something to it?’ I’m like, ‘Have at it, man.'” Wood sent back “this beautiful recording with one verse and a chorus, and I was like ‘Okay, that song’s done!'” Dixon contributed as well, underscoring the group work ethic – in composing, arranging and performance – that produced every song on I Am The Moon.

Here’s a Spotify link to the fourth album:

And here’s the companion film to I Am The Moon: IV. Farewell.

I Am The Moon is a massive project, so there’s a lot to take in here. While I knew Tedeschi Trucks Band were top-notch musicians, I really didn’t expect them to be as soulful as they are on these four albums. Admittedly, at least part of it could be plain ignorance. In any case, I really dig what this group has done here. Now I feel like seeing them. After four big-ticket shows back in June, it is going to have to wait!

Sources: Tedeschi Trucks Band website; YouTube; Spotify

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

50th Anniversary Editions Of Two Iconic Albums Released

The Beatles’ White Album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland are celebrated with major reissues

Today could be a first, or in case I’m wrong, it’s safe to say this doesn’t happen often: Two major reissues of albums by iconic music artists appearing the same day. The White Album by The Beatles and Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience are now officially out. Other than what’s currently available in Apple Music I don’t have access to any of the actual special releases at this time, yet I’d feel remiss not write about these special editions.

While the White Album isn’t my favorite Beatles album and I tend to agree with those who say they should have put the strongest songs on one record rather than releasing a double album, The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. That’s likely not going to change. Moreover, based on what I’ve read and heard, this reissue definitely features material that intrigues me. As for Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland would be my no. one album choice overall, even though it doesn’t include my two favorite Hendrix tunes: Purple Haze and Hey Joe.

The White Album 50th Anniversary Configurations

The White Album reissue is available in four configurations: A Super Deluxe 7-disc set (on the left in above picture) featuring 50 mostly previously unreleased recordings all newly mixed with 5.1 surround audio as well as the so-called Esher Demos; a deluxe 4-LP edition; a 2-LP issue (pictured above in the middle); and a deluxe 3-CD set (on the right in the above image). The remixed original tracks, the Esher Demos and additional takes are also available on iTunes/Apple Music and other digital and streaming services.

Similar to last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition, Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, worked together with mix engineer Sam Okell. They newly mixed the album’s 30 original tracks in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, together with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which weren’t released in any form previously. While I have no doubt the sound is fantastic and superior to previous recordings, for the most part I can’t hear the differences. That’s largely because the streaming versions are lower quality than the CDs or vinyl records. And, yes, part of it may also be explained by some hearing loss I can’t deny! Here’s a cool lyric video of the 2018 mix of Back In The U.S.S.R.

Given the above mentioned sound quality constraints, what’s more intriguing to me, are the additional demo and session tracks, particularly the Esher Demos that were recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. These are early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the album.

Two of the tunes that weren’t included on the White Album, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, ended up on Abbey Road. Not Guilty, a Harrison composition, was eventually released on his eponymous studio album from February 1979, his eighth studio record. And then there’s John Lennon’s Child Of Nature, which became Jealous Guy and was included on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine from September 1971 – admittedly stuff that is likely to primarily excite Beatles fans like myself.

Two things are very striking to me about these Esher Demos. The amount of writing was just remarkable during a time when tensions among The Beatles were increasing, which even led to Ringo Starr’s temporary departure. But despite their differences, somehow these guys were still able to engage as a band. They even has some fun, as background chatter on some of these home recordings suggests. Here’s the Esher Demo of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. While it’s clearly not my favorite Beatles tune, does this sound to you like a band in distress?

The Electric Ladyland Deluxe 50th Anniversary Box Set comes in two formats: 3-CD/one Blu-ray or 6-LP/one Blue-ray. It features a newly remastered Electric Ladyland album; Electric Ladyland: The Early Takes (unreleased demos); Live At The Hollywood Bowl 9/14/68 (unreleased concert); the previously released documentary about the making of the album At Last … The Beginning with 40 minutes of new footage; 5.1 surround sound mix of Electric Ladyland album; Linda McCartney’s original cover photo as chosen by Jimi Hendrix but rejected by the record company; a 48-page book featuring unpublished photos; and new essays by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Hendrix biographer John McDermott.

Electric Ladyland Box Set

CD mastering and the 5.1 surround sound mix were done by Eddie Kramer, sound engineer on all Hendrix albums released during his lifetime. Vinyl mastering was done by Bernie Grundman, who has mastered albums, such as Aja (Steely Dan), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and various Prince records.

Similar to Abbey Road, which couldn’t have been more different from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Ladyland marked a significant change for Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first two albums by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, where producer Chas Chandler tightly managed the recording process, Hendrix was fully in charge on Electric Ladyland. Recording sessions were no longer determined by Chandler’s tight organization and time management, but by Hendrix’s unconstrained perfectionism. Hendrix also repeatedly invited friends and guests to join him in the studio, such Brian Jones (still with The Rolling Stones at the time), Steve Winwood and Al Kooper. This created oftentimes chaotic recording conditions, which eventually led to Chandler to walk out on Hendrix.

Except for some tracks from the documentary At Last … The Beginning, currently, nothing else from the Electric Ladyland reissue is available on iTunes or Apple Music. I suspect it is similar for other digital or streaming platforms. That’s unfortunate and I assume done by design to encourage purchases of the actual box set. Probably for the same reason, I also couldn’t find any YouTube clips of songs from the reissue. The CD version currently sells for $42.39 on Amazon, while the vinyl configuration is going for $98.39. Here’s a fun clip of Eddie Kramer talking about Electric Ladyland and the new box set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Beatles website, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube