Joachim Cooder infuses old-time tunes with ‘welcoming’ flavor

Posted 2/28/24

By Kirk Boxleitner


He’s a newcomer to Port Townsend, but Joachim Cooder is no novice to the music industry. He’s recorded with rhythm-and-blues stars such as Mavis …

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Joachim Cooder infuses old-time tunes with ‘welcoming’ flavor


By Kirk Boxleitner


He’s a newcomer to Port Townsend, but Joachim Cooder is no novice to the music industry. He’s recorded with rhythm-and-blues stars such as Mavis Staples and Dr. John, after having performed in the 1996 Havana sessions that produced the first Buena Vista Social Club album.

That album was produced and co-directed by Joachim’s father, Ry Cooder, and Joachim credited family as a continuing influence on the music he’s bringing to The Palindrome at Eaglemount Cidery on Saturday, March 2, as part of Rainshadow Recording’s ongoing concert series.

The multi-instrumental Joachim Cooder will be joined by fiddler and fellow singer-songwriter Rayna Gellert, who got her start as a member of the old-time stringband Uncle Earl, and has recorded with folk rockers such as Robyn Hitchcock and Loudon Wainwright III.

After honing her fiddle skills at jam sessions and square dances, Gellert fell into a life of traveling and performing, releasing two albums with Uncle Earl before releasing two solo albums, “Old Light: Songs From My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds” and “Workin's Too Hard.”

Since 2016, Gellert has been writing, recording and performing as a duo with Kieran Kane, with whom she’s released three albums, the most recent being “The Flowers That Bloom in Spring.”

As for Cooder, he’s used his debut album on Warner Records’ Nonesuch label, “Over That Road I’m Bound,” to turn the songs of old-time banjo player Uncle Dave Macon, who died in 1951, into the jumping-off point for an album that owes as much to his family, in both the theme and production of its music.

Joachim explained that he’d never been a huge bluegrass aficionado, but these are tunes that his father Ry had played for him, and which he now sings to his own young children.

“It sort of became my way of seeing into the music,” Cooder said. “Uncle Dave Macon’s music might seem obscure to some folks, but what I realized, when I was singing his songs for my children, is how much they can sound like lullabies, which are very comforting. I wanted my take on these tunes to be warm and welcoming, to make them accessible and inclusive.”

Indeed, not only have his children repeatedly requested that he perform Uncle Dave’s tunes, but Cooder has also used them as a guide for his own lyrical embellishments, comparing the way young children phrase things to the English lyrics written by European musicians, which are “not quite right, but so genius,” allowing him to reinterpret existing musical materials “through a window askew.”

At the same time, Cooder looks forward to using his electronically enhanced instruments, including an African thumb-piano known as the mbira, to put his listeners into “a contemplative, ambient, almost cinematic headspace,” creating a “nearly mystical” experience that he described as akin to “mainlining another dimension,” recalling the “Fourth World” concept of ambient electroacoustic music developed by trumpet player Jon Hassell, with whom Cooder has also recorded.

Matt Miner, producer of the Rainshadow Recording concert series, cited “a gentleness and a plaintive quality” in these songs, whose arrangements he likened to world music, a genre favored by Ali Farka Touré, who has also recorded with Cooder.

On his own, Cooder has released two albums, 2015’s “Love on a Real Train” and 2018’s “Fuchsia Machu Picchu,” plus a 2020 EP of instrumentals, “We Can Talk from Different Waters.”

As for Port Townsend, Cooder described himself as pleasantly surprised to see the venue on his itinerary, since he’s played Seattle and Portland, but he finds it exciting to play venues that are more “out of the way.”

Find him at The Palindrome at Eaglemount Cidery, at 1893 S. Jacob Miller Rd. in Port Townsend, at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 2

Tickets are $25 each at at online, or $30 cash or check at the door.

For more information, call Miner at 503-484-8196.