Don’t let the heady concept and roman numerals in the subtitles give you the wrong idea — Tedeschi Trucks Band’s four-album song cycle “I Am the Moon” is not a grand offering to the high priests and priestesses of prog rock.
Yes, the band released a quartet of albums this year (concluding with “I Am the Moon: IV. Farewell” in August) inspired by a 12th-century work by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi. They’re accompanied by album-length films by Alix Lambert that blend enigmatic desert images with footage of the band performing at a contemporary art center. (A camel named Josiah is thanked in the credits.)
But let the 24 songs play without that context in mind and you’ll just hear tuneful compositions inspired by desire, isolation, and longing. The approachable work may function more obviously as a meditation on pandemic life than a concept-heavy opus.
“We didn’t want to make it feel like a rock opera,” says Derek Trucks, speaking on the phone from Paris while on tour. “It’s not a straight reading of the poem, that’s for sure.”
In a separate conversation, multi-instrumentalist songwriter Mike Mattison puts it succinctly: “We don’t do musicals — we don’t know how.”
Whatever you call its well of new material, the 12-member Tedeschi Trucks Band will likely dip deeply into it when the horn-sweetened classic rock revivalists play the Orpheum Theatre for four nights beginning Tuesday.
Nizami’s “Layla and Majnun” is a story inspired by legend about anguished lovers kept apart by their disapproving families. Layla’s father locks her away while Majnun wanders the desert singing songs to her, gaining a reputation for losing his mind. There is no happy ending.
Norwell native Susan Tedeschi and husband Trucks came to the material not through a deep connection with Persian culture but the classic rock family tree.
Once upon a time, the poem supplied Eric Clapton with a great name for the female object of his obsession in the title track from “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.” That collaboration with Duane Allman was credited to Derek and the Dominos, for whom Trucks is named. At 19, the guitar phenom joined the Allman Brothers Band for a 15-year spell; he’s also played with Clapton’s touring group. Tedeschi is not left out of the mythology here: She was born the day the Derek and the Dominos’ album was released.
Tedeschi Trucks Band played all those assorted love songs during a memorable appearance at the Lockn’ Festival in Virginia in 2019. So the album was fresh in mind early in the coronavirus pandemic, when Mattison suggested his bandmates give Nizami’s poem a read and see if it could inspire songs from the point of view of Layla — rather than the man driven mad by his desire for her.
“The theme of that story kind of tracked pretty well with what was going on in everybody’s individual world. It’s about isolation, and a lot of it’s about just trying to hold on to reality and the things that go along with it,” Trucks says.
The relationship of some songs to the source material is not always clear, and the four albums’ subtitles — “I. Crescent,” “II. Ascension,” “III. The Fall,” “IV. Farewell” — suggest a tidier narrative arc than the lyrics really present.
But the sheer quantity of quality material is impressive, and the exercise revealed the band finding an increasingly collaborative voice after more than a decade together.
“It seemed like everybody woke up in the morning with a new song idea inspired by somebody else’s idea,” Trucks says of a prolonged songwriting and recording session at the home he shares with Tedeschi and their two children in Jacksonville, Fla.
On “Soul Sweet Song,” written by new member Gabe Dixon with Mattison and Trucks, Tedeschi voices Layla’s wail of longing as she finds bittersweet catharsis by accepting her loneliness: “Now there’s no use wishing for your sweet return/‘Cause I see you in the morning sun/And I hear you on the whispering wind.”
Dixon wrote the elegiac title track, which is rooted in the poem but lands with contemporary panache. “I am the moon, you are the sun,” Tedeschi sings. “And look at you, flaming out in front of everyone.”
The project helped the band through the dark, early days of the pandemic, following the death of charter band member Kofi Burbridge in 2019. Now, as it prepares to climax a long stretch of touring with Tedeschi’s four-show homecoming in Boston, the group finds itself artistically refreshed.
“It just made us realize we’re creative enough. We can find a way to get things done and keep growing,” Tedeschi says. “We’re trying to help bring some positivity and joy and light and get people’s minds off all the other horrible things going on in the world. It might take more than four albums for that, but it’s a good start.”
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND
At the Orpheum Theatre. Nov. 29-30, Dec. 2-3, 7:30 p.m. $32.75-$122.75. crossroadspresents.com
Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.