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

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The Blues Comes Alive…Live – Part I

For people who have frequently visited this blog or know me otherwise, this won’t come as a big surprise: I love the blues and blues rock. I also feel it’s a type of music that’s perfect to be experienced live. I was reminded of this on Saturday when thanks to fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride I listened to Layla Revisited (Live at LOCKN’).

This cool live album by Tedeschi Trucks Band, released back in July, celebrates Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, the sole 1970 studio album by Derek and the Dominos. And just like blues musicians often feed off one another, I let this inspire me and decided to come up with a post of great live blues and blues rock performances. I’m going to do this in two parts. Hope you dig this as much as I do!

B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone

Let’s kick off part I with the king of electric guitar blues, the amazing B.B. King. He demonstrated that it’s not about speed and how many notes you play, it’s what you play. And when it comes to this man, he made every note count he played on his beloved “Lucille”. Check out this cool rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, captured in Chicago at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell and first recorded by Hawkins in 1951, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1969 and I would argue his signature song. King is joined by many of the musicians he influenced, including Eric Clapton, Robert Cray and Jimmie Vaughan, among others. Check it out, this is just amazing!

John Lee Hooker/Boogie Chillen’

Recently, I watched the great documentary Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase the Blues Away, in which Guy identified John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen’ as the first single he bought, and the song that got him hooked to the guitar and the blues! I’m thrilled I found this clip of Hooker performing the tune with Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones in 1989 in Atlantic City, N.J. That’s what I call a cool backing band! Hooker wrote and first recorded the song in 1948. Clapton and the Stones, who are huge fans of American blues artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker and have done a lot to promote their music, especially in the U.S., clearly cherished the moment.

Muddy Waters/Rollin’ Stone

Speaking of Muddy Waters, here’s a great live performance of Rollin’ Stone, the very song that inspired the name of the “world’s greatest rock & roll band.” An interpretation of delta blues tune Catfish Blues, Waters recorded Rollin’ Stone in 1950. The clip shows his performance of the song at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960. It’s the oldest footage features in this two-part post.

Cream/Crossroads

Cream possibly are my all-time favorite blues rock band. Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker perfectionated the art of the power trio. Here’s a great clip of Crossroads performed by the band in March 1968 at the Fillmore Auditorium & Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. Written by Robert Johnson who originally recorded it as Cross Road Blues in 1936, Crossroads (arranged by Clapton) appeared on Cream’s 1968 album Wheels of Fire. The live version on the record seems to be the same than the one that is captured in this clip.

Dani Wilde/Mississippi Kisses

Buddy Guy, who together with Taj Mahal is one of the last men standing of what I would call the old blues guard, often speaks about the need for young artists to come along to keep the blues alive when he will be gone. I’m actually pretty optimistic about this. Some great examples coming to mind include 22-year-old Christone “Kingfish” Ingram; 24-year-old Jontavious Willis who has been called “wunderkind” by none other than Mahal; or 44-year-old Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But guess what? There are also some dynamite female blues and blues rock artists out there like 36-year-old British singer-songwriter Dani Wilde. Ana Popović, Shemekia Copeland and Eliana Cargnelutti are among some of the others who come to mind. Here’s a 2015 performance by Wilde of Mississippi Kisses, a tune she wrote for her 2012 album Juice Me Up.

J. Geils Band/First I Look at the Purse

A post about great live renditions of blues rock tunes would be amiss without the ultimate party group, the J. Geils Band, don’t you agree? I think it’s also a perfect way to wrap up part I. Here’s a cool clip taken from what looks like a 1979 appearance of the band on the German music TV program Rockpalast. One of my all-time favorites by the J. Geils Band is their high energy rendition of First I Look at the Purse. It’s the main part of this encore medley, which starts at around 4 minutes into the clip. Co-written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers, the song was first released by Motown R&B group The Contours in 1965. J Geils Band recorded their cover of the tune for their eponymous debut album from November 1970, but it’s really their live rendition that brings out the song’s true magic. When watching this, don’t you feel like dropping anything you’re doing right now and going to a fuckin’ rock & roll show? What a killer performance by a killer live band!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Bettye LaVette/Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.

The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.

Bettye LaVette - Soulful Detroit

While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.

Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.

Bettye LaVette Interview - Blues Matters Magazine

In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.

LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!

The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John LennonPaul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.

How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!

Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!

Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!

Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!

Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.

Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”

In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”

So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube