A wonderful quirky and eclectic debut album from singer/activist Joe Troop
‘Borrowed Time’ is the first solo album from Joe Troop whose band Che Apalache were nominated for Folk Album Of The Year in 2020. The band had just started a tour of the US when Covid struck and like the best-laid plans of mice and men (and nearly everyone on the planet) those plans went in the trash can!
However, like a lot of musicians, Troop saw the hiatus as a chance to put together a solo album and what a superb album it is. It may not be nominated for Folk Album Of The Year as it’s almost impossible to pigeon-hole ‘Borrowed Time’. There’s old-timey bluegrass, traditional country, Tex-Mex, flamenco, gospel and even a track with a distinctly Continental flavour – it’s certainly an eclectic mix of styles. There are tracks where the listener is transported back to the 1940s and through the static comes The Grand Ole Opry on WSM Radio and other tracks when you’re back in 1960 and the wireless is tuned to one of those Mexican radio stations that broadcast via enormous antennae deep into Texas and beyond.
The album opens with ‘Horizon’ featuring Troop’s melodic banjo (the instrument that links all the tracks whatever genre they are), some odd percussion, scat singing, delightful harmonies and a little bit of Spanish for good measure. This is followed by ‘Love Along The Way’ which has echoes of theme tune for 60s TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies” which was played by The Foggy Mountain Boys. Then comes an old-fashioned narrative song ‘The Rise Of Dreama Caldwell’ which tells the story of a black woman who ran for County Commissioner in deepest North Carolina and ended up in jail. Just as it seems the song is concluding, in comes a superb gospel choir made up of residents of the county where Caldwell stood for office. The fourth track is Troop’s elegy to immigrants, ‘Hermano Migrante’ is manly sung in Spanish. Then comes ‘Sevilla’ a banjo-led instrumental with a flamenco bulerias rhythm which Troop discovered during his college years in Spain.
Track six, ‘Purdy Little Rainbows’ is to quote Troop (an openly gay man), his “Ode to the other rural queer folks trying to get by in red-state America”. The next song is another in Spanish, ‘Monte Oscuro’ featuring banjo and fiddle and that’s followed by the jaunty, satirical ‘Red White & Blues’ with its mentions of ‘mac ‘n cheese’ and ‘overcooked ham’ and then ‘Prisonero’ another song sung in Spanish with flamenco undertones. Track ten ‘Mercy For Migrants’ is probably the highlight of the album. A plaintive cry for tolerance and humanity towards immigrants it features some sublime harmonies from Abigail Washburn as well as Bela Fleck on banjo.
The penultimate track is a bit of an oddity, ‘Django’s Place’, a homage to Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt although in this case featuring some virtuoso banjo playing from Troop. The album ends with ‘Heaven On Earth’ which features whistling, harmony vocals, jaunty banjo and a crazy, wacky Tex Mex style ending that finishes the album off with a smile.
Recorded during the time of covid and co-produced by Troop who sings superbly throughout the album in a number of styles and two languages and Jason Richmond (The Avett Brothers, The Steep Canyon Rangers) the sound throughout is excellent and all the instruments are superbly recorded. Some of the musicians appearing on the album are percussionist Brevan Hampden, guitarist Charlie Hunter, bassist Trey Boudreaux, superb fiddle player Nokesee Fields, accordionist Rolando Revilla and organist Sam Fribush all of whom add layers and texture to the album.
Troop’s activism is the glue that holds the album together. He’s been campaigning for gay rights for years and his championing of the claims of immigrants attempting safe passage to the USA, resonates in a number of songs sung powerfully in Spanish. However, Troop doesn’t hector or berate the listener; as the man himself says with a wry smile: “Music with a good cause is way more fun.”