Joachim Cooder, the Californian singer-songwriter and musician, is known to many as a sought-after percussionist, who has worked with artists of the stature of Buena Vista Social Club, Dr John, Mavis Staples, Ali Farka Touré and, of course, his father Ry Cooder. Joachim Cooder’s body of work also includes haunting and evocative film scores. For his third solo album, Over That Road I’m Bound, Cooder has reimagined the plain-spoken songs of country music legend Uncle Dave Macon, exploring and expanding on the tunes, adding some extra lyrics and reworking Macon’s banjo melodies for his own chosen instrument, an electric mbira, a variation on the African thumb piano. The resulting ambient and hypnotic soundscapes are stunning and very far-removed from country music.
Although other high quality musicians are also on board, including Nashville fiddler Rayna Gellert and Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré, this album is very much a family affair, with Joachim Cooder joined by his wife Juliette Commagere on backing vocals and his father Ry on guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass and backing vocals. There is a real intimacy to the album, with Joachim Cooder’s warm and soothing vocals weaving in and out of the quietly mesmerising, multi-layered melodies and grooves.
Irresistible, chiming mbira rhythms set the tone in title track Over That Road I’m Bound To Go, supplemented by gloriously swinging fiddle and banjo breaks and soaring vocal harmonies on the choruses. Gentle African vibes lend an air of mystery and wonder to Come Along Buddy, which features more sublime harmonies… “…Tiny bottles blue and green, laid out by your TV screen, been hearing your voice inside each one, I’m wonderin’ what it means…”. Spellbinding mbira grooves, swaying rhythms and handclaps permeate Oh Lovin’ Babe, its desert blues feel accentuated by Vieux Farka Touré’s sinuous guitar lines.
Shuffling beats and twinkling mbira underpin Joachim Cooder’s world-weary vocals in Morning Blues, with Juliette Commagere’s delicate harmonies chasing those blues away…”I got the morning blues, oh so bad, I said, honey come and kiss me, it’s the worst I’ve ever had.” Deep drones of pump organ cushion a beautiful duet from Cooder and Commagere in the graceful All In Down And Out. The lullaby-like Molly Married A Traveling Man flows like the gentlest of streams, with washes of mbira and fiddle, and sprinkles of Ry Cooder’s trademark slide guitar…”Hoorah, girls, I’m a-telling you, do the best you can, if you wanna live easy and rejoice, remember Molly married a traveling man”. The album ends in breath-taking fashion with When The Train Comes Along, a haunting gospel blues featuring swirling guitar riffs, ambient overtones and spine-tingling harmonies.
Over That Road I’m Bound is an absolute joy from start to finish. Joachim Cooder has delivered one of the essential albums of 2020.
Over That Road I’m Bound was released by Nonesuch Records on 2nd October 2020.