By Scott McLennan
“Episode III. The Fall” is the most thematically focused installment in the four-part I Am the Moon saga so far.
We learn at a young age, sometimes the hard way, not to touch a hot stove. But as we grow older, we also find ourselves at times inexplicably drawn into romantic relationships that lead to pain, sorrow, and remorse — yet that burner continues to tempt a quick touch.
The Tedeschi Trucks Band concentrates on the bitter dimension of love throughout the third installment of its I Am the Moon epic. “Episode III. The Fall” is the most thematically focused installment in the four-part saga so far. Plenty of life-affirming and faith-embracing sentiments are woven into the mix, but overall there is a pervasive sense of darkness and tension.
These contrasts reflect the emotional trajectory of the project’s literary source, “The Story of Layla and Majnun,” the classic 12th-century epic poem that served as the songwriting inspiration for the members of the TTB. The band members wrote and recorded throughout the period of pandemic lockdown, producing 24 songs for I Am the Moon. TTB made the artistic decision to put the songs on four separate albums, which will be released according to the lunar cycle — every 28 days beginning on May 31. On those days the music will premiere for free on the band’s YouTube channel, accompanied by a film. The intent is to create a communal experience. The tunes on “The Fall” will be available on July 26 on YouTube. The album will then hit stores and streaming services on July 29.
Aside from how the albums are being presented, the fact that I Am the Moon is “an event” should be credited to the quality of the songs themselves.
Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi have built and sustained a one-of-a-kind ensemble that draws inspiration from an expansive range of music. The band’s approach could be described as looking at the past in a way that is unencumbered by chintz. This appreciation of tradition stimulates original songs that are delivered in an excitingly distinctive style.
I Am the Moon commences a new era for the band. Keyboard player Gabe Dixon, who became a full-time member of the band in 2019, following the tragic and unexpected death of Kofi Burbridge, is fully integrated into — and influencing — the sound. Drummer Isaac Eady, who joined last year, contributes his own extensive musicality to the group. On top of that, TTB took the opportunity during the pandemic to take stock of where the group has been over its 12-year journey and think seriously about where it wants to go. The shifts are subtle, not overt, so longtime fans will not be jolted by what the band is doing now compared to its earlier work.
Thematically, a memorable lyric in “Somehow” — “How can what should be wrong on paper be written in the heart so right?” — neatly sums up the record’s dynamic push and pull. “None Above” takes the central theme (nicely expressed via the couplet “The battle for your soul/ It’s killing us”) and wraps it in the warm sound of vintage AM pop radio.
Each part of I Am the Moon has served up a big showstopper of a number. On “The Fall” that song is “Yes We Will.” This exercise in gospel-inflected blues gives Tedeschi and Trucks a chance to drive their respective talents to the limit — one can imagine the kind of performance frenzy this tune would generate in concert. The song is a profession of faith — but from the perspective of someone stuck in quicksand and sinking fast.
Amid the record’s turmoil, Dixon rolls out “Gravity,” a bright, funky bit. But even this tune acknowledges that well-meaning partners can flip themselves into topsy-turvy situations (and Dixon sings this one with an emphasis on the strength and power of women to set things right).
“Emmaline” is a hauntingly poetic contribution from singer Mike Mattison. Beauty and sadness waft through a tune that has a loping country music rhythm and lovely piano-driven melody. Accents of mellotron, harmonium, and lush vocal harmonies are judiciously applied.
In contrast to its combative opening, “The Fall” closes with the tender and vulnerable “Take Me as I Am.” Tedeschi and singer Mark Rivers are paired in this gorgeous ballad, which contrasts “The Fall”‘s earlier visions of the potential destructiveness of togetherness with the ability of genuine passion to comfort, even when the lovers are separated: “We fill the same space/ No matter how far apart.”
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.