Joachim Cooder's cover of Steve Earle’s "Christmas in Washington," recorded December 2020 in Los Angeles, features Cooder, who produced the track, on vocals, array mbira, and percussion; Rayna Gellert on fiddle; and Juliette Commagere on backing vocals. “Since Steve Earle released 'Christmas in Washington' in 1997 I've been listening to it year in and year out," he says. "After the election and the last four years we’ve been through, and with Christmas approaching, I thought it was time we all checked back in with Steve. Now more than ever, it seems all a man can do is call out for Woody Guthrie to rise again."
Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Joachim Cooder, who made his Nonesuch debut in the fall of 2020 with Over That Road I’m Bound, released a cover of Steve Earle’s timely “Christmas in Washington” on December 18, 2020. Recorded two weeks prior in Los Angeles, the single features Cooder, who produced the track, on vocals, array mbira, and percussion; Rayna Gellert on fiddle; and Juliette Commagere on backing vocals.
Cooder said, “Since Steve Earle released ‘Christmas in Washington’ in 1997 I’ve been listening to it year in and year out. After the election and the last four years we’ve been through, and with Christmas approaching, I thought it was time we all checked back in with Steve. Now more than ever, it seems all a man can do is call out for Woody Guthrie to rise again.”
“Christmas in Washington” was first released on Earle’s album El Corazón. As he said when he performed it on Austin City Limits in 2000: “This song is four years old. The reason I know that is I wrote it on election night last time around … And as freaked out as everybody is about this one, I was pretty freaked out last time. It wasn’t about who won or who lost, it was about how much difference it was gonna make, no matter who won … When it’s all over and they’re done counting ballots … I have serious doubts as to whether it’s gonna make any difference in the lives of people in East Austin, South Nashville, Kensington in Philadelphia, and literally thousands of other communities like that. I can show you places in your own country that look like what you would associate with a third-world nation … I think what’s lacking in the process this go-round is heroes. This is a song about heroes. It’s about my heroes.”
Joachim Cooder has been a sought-after percussionist for two decades now, on now-legendary recordings with his father, Ry Cooder, like the landmark Buena Vista Social Club sessions and on his own with artists like Ali Farka Touré, who inspired Cooder to take up the mbira. He has produced albums for other artists, composed for film, and collaborated with choreographer Daniel Ezralow.
On Over That Road I’m Bound, Cooder uses the plain-spoken songs country-music progenitor and banjo player Uncle Dave Macon recorded as a jumping off point, playing with the lyrics and reworking melodies for his chosen instrument: an electric mbira (a variation on an African thumb piano). Uncut called the album, “Warm, uplifting and quietly spectacular,” and Mojo said, “However sui generis Over That Road I’m Bound is, there’s a reassuringly Cooderesque familiarity to it. Perfect late-night listening accompanied by a tumbler of something strong.” BBC Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe said it was “one of the most intriguing releases we’ve heard this year.”