Joe Troop: Borrowed Time

Joe Troop’s name should be familiar to readers as leader of the band Che Apalache. Two years ago, their album Rearrange My Heart featured a Japanese folk song from Nagano impeccably sung by Troop and given its premiere by the Power of Okinawa. The album went on to receive worldwide acclaim and a Grammy nomination.

Now Troop is back with his first solo album. As an openly gay man who grew up playing bluegrass in the American South, he has been chased off stages and threatened for his radical songs. Undeterred and eager to pursue his beliefs, his new album is a collection of self-composed protest songs plus a couple of instrumentals. The dominant sound is that of Troop’s voice and banjo and to this he adds some gifted musicians on the various tracks.

This tells only a small portion of the story because the album is much more than that. There are songs sung in English, and in Spanish, and sometimes Troop slips effortlessly between the two languages on the same track. Although almost everything is banjo-driven, there are hints of many different styles and genres incorporated into some glorious mixes. The two instrumentals alone display a remarkable eclecticism with ‘Sevilla’ creating a new genre of banjo flamenco.

But the songs and their messages are at the heart of the album. ‘Love Along the Way’ is a positive life-affirming manifesto that sets the tone in a kind of throwback to the spirit of Woody Guthrie. It contains the album’s title, and the recording features Tim O’Brien on mandolin and vocals.

‘Red, White and Blues’ is the most country with its guitar and mandolin, while the message of gay pride on ‘Purdy Little Rainbows’ is delivered with a laconic laid-back vocal reminiscent of Willie Nelson. Meanwhile the lilting ‘Prisionero’ has a Spanish vocal and some great banjo. ‘Mercy for Migrants’ begins like a sombre hymn and Troop is joined for this by the renowned Béla Fleck on banjo and Abigail Washburn on vocals. A song of empathy for migrants and of mercy for all.   

Joe Troop (Photo: Kendall Bailey)

The album’s final track is ‘Heaven on Earth’, and it typifies everything that is so warm, vital, and adventurous about this set of songs and instrumentals. The first half of this plea for togetherness is played and sung in old-time style and then it segues into a completely different Latin rhythm to provide the perfect upbeat ending to a wonderfully successful album.

Protest songs do not have to be earnest or dour and this is something Borrowed Time gets exactly right. It may be almost too eclectic to satisfy everyone with its mix of language and musical styles but those with open ears and hearts should be very entertained and perhaps educated a bit too along the way.

The final word goes to Joe Troop: “What is generally lacking in this country is solidarity. The ruling elites chose to divide and conquer, they pitted us against each other. Ideologies wither fast when enough people realize they share a common oppressor. We don’t have to convince everyone to join us, just enough. Besides, music with a good cause is way more fun.”

Borrowed Time will be released by Free Dirt Records on 20th August.

Explore posts in the same categories: Roots Music from Out There

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