In a popular music era defined by singles, shuffle play and short attention spans, rock/soul revue Tedeschi Trucks Band is pursuing an unlikely path. The powerhouse collective led by wife-and-husband due Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks has recorded a thematically-linked set of albums – four in total – and is rolling them out on a timed release schedule over the coming moths. The first installment of I Am the Moon (titled Episode I: Crescent) was released June 3. The second volume, Ascension, had a street date of July 1. Episode III: The Fall came out July 29, and the final segment of the sprawling, ambitious work, Episode IV: Farewell will be released August 26. Each album release date is paired with a film premiere to match.
Concept albums – even ones with only the thinnest of narrative threads – can have a tendency toward pretentiousness. But the street-level sensibilities of its creators, coupled with their passion and commitment to authenticity, means that I Am the Moon avoids that trap. Drawing inspiration from the same source Eric Clapton used when creating Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, his own ambitious 1970 project made under the Derek and the Dominos banner, Tedeschi Trucks Band follows the inspiration in a very different direction.
Susan Tedeschi explains how the project got its start, noting that TTB had been performing the Layla album in its entirety; they released the live Layla Revisited last year. “While Mike [Mattison, vocalist] was reading the [lyrics] one day, he was inspired,” she says. “He said, ‘A lot of these songs, like “I Am Yours,” were inspired by this poem, “Layla and the Majnun.”’”
Mattison suggested that he and his band mates go back to that source – the 12th century poem written by Nizami – an approach it from a fresh perspective. As opposed to Clapton’s take on the poem – a man’s longing for a woman and the journey upon which he embarks – TTB would flip the script. Tedeschi recalls Mattison’s creative challenge: “What about if we take it from her perspective, and [that of] other people who are affected by the relationship?”
Tedeschi emphasizes that while Nizami’s poem is more than 800 years old, its underlying themes still resonate, especially now. “Women back then really didn’t have a voice,” she notes. “And nowadays, women are still fighting for a voice.” And the epic poem’s story line includes the female protagonist being locked away in a tower while the main male character goes mad in the wilderness, talking to animals. Tedeschi says that “for a long period, the characters don’t have human interaction with people outside of their immediate family. That can make you struggle with your mental health. It makes you realize how much we need each other.”
Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, those themes suddenly become far less abstract than they might have been just a few short years ago. “And the drinking of red wine,” Tedeschi adds with a laugh. “There’s a lot of wine drinking in the poem. During the pandemic, I saw a lot of people turn to drinking.” She suggests that the current-day imbibing she witnessed was less about getting drunk and more about “just trying to relax and decompress from so much stress.”
Finding thesleves temporarily sidelined by the pandemic, the members of Tedeschi Trucks Band made the best of their time off the road. “Everybody was at home writing,” Tedeschi says. “We al lread the poem, and we all started writing about things that came to mind, thing that had to do either with ur own lives, the pandemic or the actual poem.” Having several songwriters working toward a shared goal bore creative fruit.
Tedeschi enuses that TTB keyboardist Gabe Dixon deserves an “A-plus” for his writing of the project’s title track. She says that the song embodied the foundation of the musical work: “Write something from Layla’s perspective, about how she felt about the relationship.” Tedeschi says that while she has long known of Dixon’s strength as a songwriter, she was surprised by “I Am the Moon.” “I was like, ‘Gabe, how do you know how women are? How do you know women’s [thoughts] so well?” She answers her own question: “He’s married, he has a beautiful wife, and he’s a sensitive, beautiful, gifted guy.”
Mike Mattison’s “Fall In” comes in for similar praise. That song and others on I Am the Moon’s four LPs “aren’t the same message,” Tedeschi says, “but they’re [inspired] by the same poem, and informed by current-day concerns. “Falcon [drummer Tyler Greenwell] and Mike wrote lyrics like, “I can’t find my way home; I don’t know if it’s night or day,” Tedeschi says. “There’s this sense of going mad.”
Tedeschi’s own “La Di Da” was inspired about her son heading off to college. “It’s like they’re going to leave you one morning; it just happens and comes without a warning,” she says. “Parallels can come from real life or the poem.”
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