Joachim Cooder with Rayna Gellert
On Saturday, March 2, Rainshadow Concerts presents Joachim Cooder with fiddle superstar Rayna Gellert at the Palindrome at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25 online at https://www.ticketstorm.com/e/29361/t/ or $30 at the door.
About Over That Road I’m Bound (visit website for more)
On his Nonesuch debut, Over That Road I’m Bound, Joachim Cooder uses the plain-spoken songs of country-music progenitor Uncle Dave Macon as the jumping-off point for an album that feels more like a compellingly soulful reverie than a scholarly excavation. Family is at the heart of the project—as an impetus and as a theme. Cooder enlists family members to join him as he explores and expands upon tunes that his father had played for him and that Cooder now sings to his young children. He tinkers with lyrics and reworks banjo melodies for his own chosen instrument, an electric mbira, a variation on the African thumb piano. Culling material from a vast catalog, Cooder locates a gentleness and a plaintive quality in these songs; the novel arrangements he fashions often owe more to ambient or world music than to country. It’s an unexpected —and utterly original—take on the music Macon had performed.
The soft-spoken artist has been a sought-after percussionist for two decades now. He performed on the now-legendary sessions in Havana that produced Buena Vista Social Club and has worked with many of its players on their subsequent solo discs. He’s recorded with a wide range of other performers, including Mavis Staples, Jon Hassell, Dr. John, and Ali Farka Touré, who further fueled his passion for the mbira. He’s produced albums for fellow artists including Commagere and singer-songwriter Carly Ritter; composed for film; and collaborated with choreographer Daniel Ezralow on music for dance. On his own, he’s released two albums, Love on a Real Train (2015) and Fuchsia Machu Picchu (2018), and an EP of haunting instrumentals, We Can Talk from Different Waters (2020).
Pairing the evocative sound of the mbira with this early American repertoire was an instinctive match of instrument and song, not a deliberate statement. Yet the album does point in a specific direction, serving as a subtle and poetic retracing of this music back to Africa, which, after all, is also where the banjo itself originated. For Cooder, whose career has often been about crossing borders and blending cultures, embarking on such a project as this feels like second nature. As he notes: “It’s a happy coincidence, to hear that music on the mbira. The banjo, the guitar, all these instruments we love, we all recognize them. I love the mbira, especially the one I use,”—called an Array Mbira—“because it’s the creation of one maker, Bill Wesley. I love to play it so much because it puts me in another place entirely. When people hear me play it, it puts them in another place as well, though maybe not the same place as me. They’ll say, ‘This sounds Irish,’ or, ‘This sounds African.’ Taking the Uncle Dave songs out of the strict banjo box, it takes the song out of that mind set, whatever one thinks of when hearing a banjo. Because of the nature of the instrument, whenever I sit down to play it, I get into this very dreamy state. In doing these songs, I found myself being in a very lullaby-ish state. I never wanted to get out of that, to get too jangly or too rambunctious. I wanted to keep this feeling the whole way through. Also, because the beginnings were tied in with my daughter, doing these songs for her in a way, there is a true lullaby aspect to these songs. I sing them to both of my kids now as we walk through the neighborhood, like a little internal meditation.”
As he worked on the melodies, Cooder began to incorporate his own words, often lyrics he had written to entertain his daughter: “I found that a lot of Uncle Dave’s lyrics were sort of like little bits that he took from other places. And I started doing the same thing.” He contacted his friend Rayna Gellert, a Nashville-based fiddler, told her what he was working on, and invited her to play on it…
Rayna Gellert www.raynagellert.com was a member of the acclaimed stringband Uncle Earl, with whom she released two albums on Rounder Records and toured like mad. She has also toured extensively with songwriter Scott Miller, as well as her Uncle Earl bandmate Abigail Washburn.
In recent years, Rayna’s focus has turned toward songwriting and singing, releasing two solo albums (Old Light: Songs from my Childhood & Other Gone Worlds and Workin’s Too Hard) on StorySound Records. Since 2016, she has been writing, recording, and performing as a duo with Kieran Kane. They have now released three albums on Dead Reckoning Records — most recently The Flowers That Bloom in Spring.