Music Reviews
Che Apalache

Che Apalache

Rearrange My Heart

Free Dirt

Che Apalache is a bluegrass band, sort of. They are lead by fiddler Joe Troop, who grew up in the North Carolina Piedmont region playing old time music at all night jam sessions. As Joe came of age, he felt unwelcome in his own homeland, so he began wandering. He lived in Spain learning flamenco. He moved to Japan to teach English before eventually immigrating to Argentina where he started teaching bluegrass.

Bluegrass is in the DNA of Che Apalache, but their music includes so much more. Troop’s peripatetic life exposed him sounds far beyond the Piedmont. With his collaborators Martin Bobrik (mandolin) and Franco Martino (guitar) being from Argentina and Pau Barjau (banjo) being Mexican, it’s natural that other string band ideas creep into the sounds. Rearrange My Heart opens with “Saludo Murguero” a greeting in the Uruguayan murga style. The next song, “Maria” jams out on a Flamenco groove and “The Coming of Spring” makes use of Japanese tones and textures. “Over in Glory/New Swing” plays out as a bit of musical theater. The “Over in Glory” section is all in the by and by gospel about getting your reward in heaven. Once in heaven, we meet a band of drunken angels who tear into the gypsy jazz of “New Swing.”

As an immigrant, Troop has a profound connection to the plight of the refugee. The tent pole performances of Rearrange My Heart are also the most traditional sounding songs. “The Dreamer” uses a traditional folk ballad structure to tell the story of a boy who crossed the border with his family when he was a baby and grew up in North Carolina. Troop contrasts playing hide and seek among the flowers with the fear of deportation. “The Wall” takes an even more traditional form. The a cappella number has harmonies similar to Sacred Harp or Square Note gospel. Troop calls upon us to “sing about a better world where different paths have been unfurled. Of a land where freedom rings.” The celebration of American ideals then confronts the notion of a border wall, to which Che Apalache says, “That idea won’t fly so high as a wingless bird in a rock hard sky.”

Joe has called these songs subversive. They combine the familiar, even conservative song form with brutally honest lyrics. The idea is to sneak the ideas past the listener’s defenses and get them to consider things from another perspective. When the performed “The Wall” at a fiddle convention the same weekend as the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, it didn’t go over that well with everyone. They had to run for safety when an enraged audience member tried to attack them. These things can happen when you take a stand.

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