Suite Dreams: a glimpse of the Tedeschi Trucks group at RiverEdge Park

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Photo: David McClister

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In an era of popular music defined by singles, random play and short attention spans, rock/soul revue Tedeschi Trucks Band follows an unlikely path. The powerhouse collective led by wife and husband duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks has recorded a set of thematically linked albums – four in total – and is rolling them out on a scheduled release schedule over the next few months. The first episode of “I Am the Moon,” titled “Episode I: Crescent,” was released on June 3. The second volume, “Episode II: Ascension”, had an air date of July 1. “Episode III: The Fall” will be released on July 29, and the final segment of the sprawling and ambitious work, “Episode IV: Farewell,” will be released on August 26. Each album release date is associated with a matching movie premiere.

Concept albums, even those with only the thinnest narrative threads, can tend towards pretension. But the street-level sensibility of its creators, coupled with their passion and commitment to authenticity, means “I Am the Moon” avoids this 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 follow the inspiration in a very different direction.

Susan Tedeschi explains how the project got started, noting that TTB performed the “Layla” album in its entirety; they released the live “Layla Revisited” last year. “While Mike [Mattison, vocalist] was reading it [lyrics] one day he was inspired,” she says. “He said, ‘A lot of these songs, like ‘I Am Yours,’ were inspired by that poem, ‘Layla and Majnun.'”

Mattison suggested that he and his bandmates go back to that source – the 12th-century poem written by Nizami Ganjavi – and approach it from a fresh angle. Contrary to Clapton’s take on the poem – a man’s desire for a woman and the journey he embarks on – TTB would reverse the script. Tedeschi recalls Mattison’s creative challenge: “What if we took it from his point of view, and [that of] other people who are affected by the relationship? »

Tedeschi points out that while Nizami’s poem is over eight hundred years old, its underlying themes still resonate, especially now. “At the time, women didn’t really have a voice,” she notes. “And these days, women are still fight for a vote. And the story of the epic poem includes the female protagonist locked in a tower while the main male character goes mad in the desert, talking to animals. Tedeschi says that “for a long time, the characters have no human interaction with people outside of their immediate family. It can make you struggle with your sanity. It makes you realize how much we need each other.

In the context of a global pandemic, these themes suddenly become much less abstract than they might have been just a few years ago. “And the consumption of red wine,” adds Tedeschi with a laugh. “There is a plot of wine to drink in the poem. During the pandemic, I’ve seen a lot of people turn to alcohol. She suggests that the current drinking she witnessed was less about getting drunk and more about “just trying to relax and decompress after so much stress.”

Finding themselves temporarily sidelined by the pandemic, the band members made the most of their off-road time. “Everyone was at home writing,” Tedeschi says. “We all read the poem, and we all started writing about things that came to mind, things that had to do with our own lives, the pandemic, or the poem itself.” Having multiple songwriters working towards a common goal has paid off creatively.

Tedeschi raves that TTB keyboardist Gabe Dixon deserves an “A-plus” for his songwriting of the project’s title track. She says 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 although 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 [thoughts] so good ?’ She answers her own question: “He’s married, he has a beautiful wife, and he’s a sensitive, handsome, gifted guy.”

Mike Mattison’s “Fall In” is receiving similar praise. This song and others on the four “I am the Moon” albums “are not the same message”, says Tedeschi, “but they are [inspired] by the same poem”, and informed by current 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,” says Tedeschi. “There’s this feeling of going crazy.”

Tedeschi’s own “La Di Da” was inspired by his son’s departure for college. “It’s as if they were going to leave you one morning; it comes and goes without warning. The parallels can come from real life or from the poem.

The creative source for the twelve-member ensemble Tedeschi Trucks Band has produced a lot of worthy material. “That’s the direction we went,” Tedeschi says. “Anything that was a good song and sounded really loud and could carry its own was going to be part of the project.”

But all this music was more than an album. This reality led to rethinking “I Am the Moon” as a project on an even larger scale. “Once we realized how much music we really had, we [asked ourselves], ‘What are some of our favorite albums?’ “recalls Tedeschi. Her husband Derek named John Coltrane’s famous 1964 jazz album, “A Love Supreme.” “It’s like thirty-five minutes,” Tedeschi notes. Another album mentioned was “Axis: Bold as Love” by Jimi Hendrix Experience. “It’s like thirty four minutes,” says Tedeschi.

These albums – concise at least in part due to the limitations of the vinyl LP format – left indelible impressions on musicians. there was something right right as to their relative brevity. “So,” Tedeschi explains, “we realized that if we separated [“I Am the Moon”] in a way where people could digest the music and enjoy it and not be overwhelmed or inundated with too much music at once, we could actually tell that story better, let it sink in a little bit at a time.

Each of the four albums, also due for release on vinyl in September, has its own distinctive character and offers an enriching listening experience. It’s not strictly necessary to listen to all four discs to appreciate the messages and the music, but it helps.

Susan Tedeschi explains that there were several fundamental objectives within the project: “To tell the story, to move it, to keep it [the listener’s] take an interest in each and show how they are all related. But there were other concerns as well. “We wanted to distribute the different singers and styles. It was a combination.”

Previous TTB albums have come together relatively quickly. The band’s standard approach has been to schedule studio time whenever the band is not on the road. This time things were a little different. “We were working on things alone at home, then we put things together in August 2020,” says Tedeschi. “It was the first time we sat down and really started writing.” The group initially worked as a trio – Tedeschi, Trucks and Mattison – and eventually recruited more members. “In August 2021, we started touring again as twelve musicians.” In the end, the making of “I Am the Moon” took almost two years.

“I Am the Moon” has thematic unity through its lyrics, but the high-flying instrumental interplay that has always been a hallmark of TTB is also showcased. Although the lyrics are key to its strength, some of the project’s strongest moments are found on a twelve-minute plus instrument, “Pasaquan.” This track highlights TTB’s jazz sensibilities and reveals a character similar to the Butterfield Blues Band’s groundbreaking 1966 epic, “East-West.”

“It’s really the first project we’ve done as Tedeschi Trucks Band that really shows Derek as the instrumentalist as he is,” Tedeschi says. She thinks “I Am the Moon” highlights “Trucks’ ability to stretch and improvise, incorporating world music and his Allman Brothers roots”. She sees the new four-album sequel as an example of “all those beautiful qualities that this band has.”

As the band returns to concert stages – including, July 26, RiverEdge Park in Aurora – their live approach to new material mirrors how it’s being rolled out for release. “We won’t play anything that hasn’t been recorded or on YouTube with the film. [with which] it coincides,” says Tedeschi. “Then as the summer progresses, as each record comes out, we’ll start incorporating more songs.” She laughs a little thinking about the enormous work of the TTB. “So instead of a hundred songs, we’ll have 124 songs to choose from.”

Tedeschi concedes that the way many listeners experience music in 2022 doesn’t always lend itself to the album (or multi-album) format. “People can listen to anything in any order once they understand it,” she says. And TTB took that into consideration when creating “I Am the Moon.” “It is important that [the songs] stand on their own, which means they have to be great songs,” she says. “And finally, ‘I feel like all of these songs that we’ve chosen can do that.

July 26, 6:30 p.m., RiverEdge Park, 360 North Broadway, Aurora; $59.


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