By Scott McLennan
Crescent gives us the first five songs of the I Am The Moon suite and runs about 35 minutes. Let me rephrase that: it runs about 35 perfect minutes of music.
Rather than simply release a new record, the Tedeschi Trucks Band this week embarks on an ambitious undertaking of releasing new material across four albums, each accompanied by a film made up of imagery crafted for each of the new songs.
And this is no simple grab bag of tunes written while band members were holed up during the pandemic. Instead, the new material is inspired by and related to the 12th century epic The Story of Layla and Majnun written by Persian poet Nizami.
And yes, that is the same “Layla” that was behind the Derek and the Dominos masterpiece Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, Eric Clapton’s pained howl of desire for Pattie Boyd, who happened to be married to his friend George Harrison.
And yes, that is the album released on the day that Susan Tedeschi was born and made by a short-lived band featuring both Clapton and Duane Allman that ultimately served as Derek Trucks’s namesake as well as eventual guitar playing influences.
And yes, that is the album that the married co-founders of the Tedeschi Trucks Band selected to perform in its entirety with guest guitarist Trey Anastasio at the 2019 LOCKN’ Festival and later released commercially in 2021, right around the time some of the band’s new material began to surface in a series of live performances produced for a livestream series called the Fireside Sessions. (Arts Fuse review)
In between the band’s performance of Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and the Fireside Sessions, and during the period of pandemic lockdown when touring was not an option, TTB singer and songwriter Mike Mattison suggested everyone in the 12-piece band read Nizami’s poem and think about (or brood over, as he stated in album liner notes) all of its torrid treatment of unattainable love, especially from the perspective of Layla, given that Derek and the Dominos concentrated on her pain as the object of Majnun’s obsessive desire.
The end result is I Am the Moon, the first entry of which is Crescent, which arrives tomorrow via the band’s YouTube channel, accompanied by a film made by Alix Lambert. The music will be available for purchase and streaming on June 3.
The entire body of work will consist of 24 songs, not a track beyond what it would take to release a double CD. But, given the careful intent evident from the LOCKN’ performance to now, the band is making every attempt to make I Am the Moon about the art and not the product. If this is how TTB can slow the flow and encourage listeners to immerse themselves in the project, so be it.
Crescent gives us the first five songs of the suite and runs about 35 minutes. Let me rephrase that: it runs about 35 perfect minutes of music.
On this project, we hear TTB capturing in the studio what it does so well on stage, namely engaging every member of the 12-piece band in a beautifully conversational way. Horns, voices, keys, drums, bass, and guitars rise, fall, bob, and weave around each other. The goal is to artfully enrich a musical canvas: not to overwhelm the senses with ferocity, but to entice listeners into opening themselves up to the variety in this multifaceted, emotionally resonant work.
“Hear My Dear” opens Crescent on a contemplative note. Metaphors about being lost in the wilderness come straight from Nizami’s poem; imagery of catching hold of someone through a beautiful melody is straight out of the TTB playbook. The song supplies a nice slow-build; it is the kind of genre-bending number the group specializes in. The band pulls from many traditions without being beholden to any one.
“Fall In” kicks up the tempo and mood. Mattison drives this rollicking number, unfurling beguiling lyrics that teeter on the nonsensical but somehow strike a chord (“The Devil’s just a point of view/Hiding in the details, true/How will they remember you”).
“I Am the Moon” is a stunning number written by keyboard player Gabe Dixon. Dixon and Tedeschi share the vocals on this soaring track that captures the anguish of Layla’s predicament: she is horrified by Majnun’s madness and in despair because of their forced separation. Dixon joined the TTB in 2018 on a temporary basis that turned into an unexpected full-time role after the death of founding keyboard player Kofi Burbridge. With “I Am the Moon” Dixon shows he has made the difficult transition: he is shaping the direction of the band as well as preserving Burbridge’s legacy.
“Circles ‘Round the Sun” is an urgent-sounding rocker, full of pent up anxiousness and punctuated with choral chants and guitar fireworks. A chugging rhythm holds down the maelstrom.
“Pasaquan” closes Crescent, and the song is the Derek Trucks instrumental masterpiece we’ve all been waiting for. During his tenure in the Allman Brothers Band from 1999 to 2014, Trucks played “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” “Jessica,” “Hot ‘Lanta,” “Mountain Jam,” and “Les Brers in A Minor” enough times to understand the DNA of an instrumental whose purpose is to take the listener on a powerful journey. “Pasaquan” is named after the sculpture park in Georgia created by outsider artist Eddie Owens Martin (1908-1986). (He is also known as ST. EOM; his voice is heard at the tail end of “Circles ‘Round the Sun’”). The tune is credited to Trucks, drummers Tyler Greenwell and Isaac Eady, bass player Brandon Boone, and Dixon. Each of those musicians contributes memorably to this 12-plus-minute jam. But this song’s personality is all Trucks, full of guitar lines that probe, soar, and dig, moving in steps that build off of each other while also allowing everyone in the ensemble to make the dynamic shifts necessary to change the track’s mood and feel. Ultimately, “Pasaquan” comes off as liberating because of its surging rhythms and chiming melodies. But the challenges posed by the tragic story of Layla and Majnun — which touch on the obstacles we all face on any given day — are evident in the performance.
I Am The Moon is off to a promising start with Crescent. The saga continues with the film premieres of Ascension on June 28, The Fall on July 26, and Farewell on Aug. 23. The music releases will follow on the Fridays after the YouTube film premieres.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.