The 12th century poet Nizami Ganjavi couldn’t possibly have imagined that his adaptation of the age-old love story of Layla and Majnun would inspire works as timeless and as disparate as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” The Tedeschi Trucks Band read the Persian masterwork in order to trigger inspiration during isolation. The 24 songs that comprise “I Am the Moon” were written from the perspective of the poem’s Layla character, who in the narrative, suffered her own heart-rending isolation. Spread across four 30 to 38-minute albums to be released over four months, they span a next-level arc of rock, blues and soul music by composition, performance and appeal, not to mention the ambition and marketing genius behind them. “Crescent” is out now. “Ascension” follows on July 1, with “The Fall” and “Farewell” arriving on July 29 and August 26, respectively.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band has drawn extraordinarily from the blues, and from 1970s rock and rhythm and blues throughout their dozen years together. Yet its music always sounds distinctive. Husband and wife Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi also share very special bonds with Eric Clapton and his “Layla” album, and The Allman Brothers Band. Trucks’ name Derek was given him in salute to Derek and the Dominos by his dad Chris, brother of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks. The Dominos that recorded the “Layla” album prominently featured the outstanding young guitarist, Duane Allman, alongside Eric Clapton. Derek Trucks ultimately followed in Duane Allman’s footsteps as one of the guitarists in The Allman Brothers Band. And he toured the world in Clapton’s band, playing several of the “Layla” songs. On top of it all, Susan Tedeschi was born Nov. 9, 1970, the day “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” was released. Three summers ago, at Virginia’s Lockn’ Festival, the Tedeschi Trucks Band embraced that legacy, playing the album in its entirety, and releasing it as their own album, “Layla Revisited.”
Several of their news songs on “I Am the Moon” also highlight those ties, albeit subtly. During the joyous New Orleans-inflected blues of singer Mike Mattison’s “Fall In” (“Crescent”) for instance, Derek Trucks teases a National steel guitar at grand master level, his licks recalling Duane Allman on the “Layla” album. Same with his slide guitar birdcalls and the overall folk/blues vibe of “I Can Hear You Smiling” (“Farewell”). And with its mix of African, Native American and Mexican melodies like the tiles in a mosaic, the jazzy 12-minute instrumental “Pasaquan” (“Crescent”) shimmers and thrills like the Allman Brothers’ “Mountain Jam,” complete with knotty, ripping guitar and percussion solos.
Susan Tedeschi has never sounded as naturally captivating in voice. With just one accentuated syllable in the line “Went down to the sta-SHUN!” from the catchy, soul-drenched “Last Night in the Rain” (“Farewell”), she elicits a smile with stunning impact, the uplifting music carrying her emotion. As she relates a pledge of love to a song’s melody during “Hear My Dear” (“Crescent”), she coaxes like-minded “Ooh ooh’s” from the backing singers that seem to open Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” a crack. In her duet with keyboardist Gabe Dixon on the utterly magnificent love song “I Am the Moon” (“Crescent”), she strikes a balance between vocal huskiness, and soaring, angelic hues like no one else in popular music today. Tedeschi reveals as many facets of herself throughout these songs as there are varieties of music present.
Dixon plays a major role on “I Am the Moon,” singing and playing piano on “Gravity” (“The Fall”), for one example, as if leading a funky jazz combo in a packed Maple Leaf Bar. Trucks shreds that affair at its close in just one of his many spellbinding moments on guitar. For her part, Tedeschi plays biting, three Kings-inflected guitar licks, ideally so during her tough, topical blues, “Yes We Will.”
These songs of love and life blend seamlessly in whichever order they’re enjoyed. “So Long Savior” (“Ascension”), “Emmaline” (“The Fall”), and “Sweet Soul Song” (“Farewell”) are a jubilee of acoustic gospel blues, a country/Western fantasia, and a sweet, burning soul tune. Taken together, they sound of a piece. Each horn, backing voice, and flourish of a cymbal from within this superlative 12-piece ensemble is as important to the song as the guitars and lead vocalists. The Tedeschi Trucks Band displays artistic growth by leaps and bounds here. Like “Layla and Other Assorted Loves Songs” still does, “I Am the Moon” should arouse listeners for generations to come.
Tedeschi Trucks Band
‘I Am the Moon’
Label: Fantasy Records
Release: June 3, 2022