Tedeschi Trucks Band has released I Am The Moon IV, finishing a four-album set that showcases the group’s amazing collective strength. The band’s 12 performers, including five separate songwriters, took inspiration from a 12th-century poetic cycle and came together during a time of isolation caused by the global pandemic to a create spectacular four-album song cycle. Each album stands well enough alone but, taken together, they paint a cohesive and riveting narrative that artfully correlates the phases of the moon and the very life cycle of the planet itself with love and madness.
Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks are the rarest of things in the performing arts: a couple that has found a way to make a life sharing the spotlight work long term. Stellar guitarists on their own, the two compliment each other when playing together in such a way as to transcend any singular take on their sound. Around them, they have gathered a full-on rock and roll orchestra of incredibly talented individuals that gives them the strength and variety of sounds to tackle nearly any genre or chapter in modern music. Even so, such a mighty collective needs mutual inspiration to reach the farthest heights they are collectively capable of. Luckily for them, there is always something capable of sparking new thought if looked at from a fresh perspective.
Twelfth-century poet Nizami Ganjavi took inspiration from story fragments and poems from the previous four centuries to produce his epic Layla and Majnun. It’s a tale of star-crossed love and the madness that can be born from being kept from a heart’s desire. The fact that such a story still rings true to this day says a lot about our world and is both worrisome and reassuring in its own way. TTB singer Mike Mattison reread the poem about a woman and the man who went mad trying to win her hand and asked a more modern question of the tale: “What would that have been like for Layla?”
While Tedeschi Trucks Band was quarantined during the pandemic, Mattison came to them with a lockdown reading assignment. His literary suggestion was of particular interest to the lady at the top of the band’s billing, as well as the rest of the band members who were in search of something to do amidst perpetually-postponed live gigs.
With such performative talents in this band including the once-in-a-generation spectacle of Derek Trucks, it would be easy to write pretty much anything and just let the musicianship wow listeners, but that wasn’t nearly enough of a challenge for this collective. With an agreed-upon mandate the band set to work crafting the four-part modern masterpiece I Am The Moon I-IV.
After writing a raft of songs the band members realized they had crafted nothing less than a full four discs worth of material. In the 70s this would likely have been released as one of the best conceptual double albums of the decade, rivaling the scope of works like Pink Floyd‘s The Wall. In today’s modern, content-driven online structure, however, the more logical move was a series of releases to help the locked-down populace’s desperate need for distraction. As a special bonus, director Alix Lambert, known for her work on HBO‘s Deadwood, was recruited to give each release its own mini-movie to add a dimension to the work.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon I: Crescent (Film)
The themes Tedeschi Trucks Band introduces here in Crescent, particularly the allegorical use of the life and death cycle in comparison to the moon cycles’ effect on nature, are handled with deftness and grace. The title track references the essential differences between the sexes, while “Hear My Dear” and “Circles ‘Round The Sun” feature examinations of sorrow and hope in turn. With these questions asked, the closing track, “Pasaquan”, is an instrumental that rises and falls in parallels not unlike the debate between infatuation and obsession taking place between Layla and Majnun’s affections.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon II: Ascension (Film)
With the first chapter doing a lot of the heavy lifting establishing themes, in Ascension other accents—such as nods to Indian modalities and a close-to-home resonance with the marriage at the core of the band—start to gain strength. Listeners uninitiated to the inspirational source material could easily be convinced they were listening to the four-disc sonic equivalent of couples therapy for the pair of guitarists. The opening track, “Playing With My Emotions”, highlights the trust issues all couples must overcome while “All The Love” looks at the very concept of love itself, asking uncomfortable questions about its capacity to be infinite and if not; what limits are there?
All of these themes come together in “Rainy Day”, the musical translation of a night of passion. Meanwhile, the following tracks, “La Di Da” and “Hold That Line”, are masterful takes on the uncertainty that immediately follows succumbing to said passions. The final two tracks have different energies and spirits that come from being penned by two different authors as well as being written from the viewpoints of both leads in the drama. It’s a wonderful, inclusive narrative sleight-of-hand that leaves the listener wondering just who is the more relatable lead in this tale.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon III: The Fall (Film)
At this point in the story, we hear Tedeschi, speaking on behalf of Layla and for women everywhere, begin to assert a more modern take on this narrative of star-crossed lovers. While in the source material Majnun is wandering the desert, driven mad by the very concept of love denied, Tedeschi’s more sensible take shines brightly.
Though on the opening tune “Somehow” she seems to be counting her curses not unlike Majnun, by the second track, “None Above”, she is already accepting that sometimes things just don’t work out. By the third song, “Yes We Will”, she is already asserting that things will work out. Coincidently, this track is one of the most telling in the material’s reflection of COVID quarantines’ effect on the songwriting, with elements of scarcity reflecting the panicked buying frenzies and shortages that marked the start of the pandemic.
On later tracks like “Gravity” and “Emmaline”, you can feel the pain of Majnun’s injured masculine persona as the object of his affection decides to move on from him, only for Tedeschi to come along with “Take Me As I Am” as Layla rejects the idealized version of her that Majnun has formed. In those days of remoteness—an outgrowth of our general social distancing and lack of connection—before, during, and now post-quarantine, Tedeschi is speaking for generations of women out there who are over being put on pedestals by anyone. Less about being a goddess or reflective heavenly body in a man’s eyes, the narrative voice yearns for simple equality, as strong an allegory to the state of modern women as is likely possible for any band to capture.
Tedeschi Trucks Band – I Am The Moon IV: Farewell (Film)
By I Am The Moon IV: Farewell a line in the sand seems to have formed. On the first track, “Last Night In The Rain”, there is a hint of malice not present up until now that seems to relate to the speed at which rejection can turn to hate. On “Soul Sweet Song”, we are, like the narrator, shown how long the echoes of a recent love lost continue to ring out, with reminders of a former lover abounding. The next two tunes, “D’Gary” and “Where Are My Friends?” show that painful phase in failed relationships when a post-mortem of where and how things went wrong overlaps with the need to accept the reality of the situation and move forward.
As befits the decision to look at this historical relationship through the feminine perspective, Tedeschi closes out the song cycle with a pair of sonic summations. On “I Can Feel You Smiling” we perceive the narrator’s whimsical, hopeful nature as she senses the presence of Majnun, who never truly recovered from their forced separation by her father. That acceptance is widened in the cycle closer, “Another Day”, as basic hope starts to renew itself inside of Layla at the same time as her previous acceptance blossoms into the purest of all insight; death comes for us all, but hope springs eternal.
Coming out of quarantine many of us have lost at least one of our family members or friends to the scourge of disease and despair. We are, as a race, collectively shaken by the shared experience. But, having shared something, like the love found and lost at the heart of both Layla And Manjun and I Am The Moon we are all, for the moment at least, starting fresh from a similar position. We can use this opportunity to stop the harmful practice of objectification and idealization of women and move toward a world where everyone is heard, and their words respected, equally. It may not happen as cleanly as that but it is a step long overdue and a dream very much worth pursuing.