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. 🙂
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.
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.”
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