by Ana Betancourt
With the release of his solo album Borrowed Time, Che Apalache frontman Joe Troop continues his tradition of socially-conscious songwriting with a perfect mix of the ideas that have become his trademark as an activist. Described as “visceral songwriting”, the twelve tracks on Borrowed Time emphasize not only Troop’s talents as a musician, but the importance of the messages within his work.
The record was co-produced with Jason Richmond, and features collaborations from people like Béla Fleck (producer of Che Apalache’s 2019 album Rearrange my Heart), Abigail Washburn, Tim O’Brien, and Charlie Hunter. From the very beginning, Troop shows that he hasn’t abandoned the path of Che Apalache’s activism-driven work in roots music, which won them a Grammy nomination two years ago.
With “Horizon,” he finds the perfect start: South American sounds, protest influences, bluegrass, and a clear vision inspired by his time in Argentina. Later in the album, with “Monte Oscuro,” those same influences help tell the story of a man running away from a tragic love story.
There are moments throughout the record where Troop blends Latin-line and bluegrass line so effectively that it’s hard to differentiate the two. “Love Along the Way” is a standout that finds him mixing banjo with a beautiful message of living life to the fullest. “Life on Earth is borrowed time,” he sings, honoring the name of the album — a deeply resonant line that stands out on both the track and the record.
Inspired by the story of North Carolina activist Dreama Caldwell, Joe Troop honors her efforts to reform the monetary bail system with third track “The Rise of Dreama Caldwell.” He follows this thread with “Hermano Migrante,” a ballad that lies somewhere between Norteño/Tejano, country, and bluegrass.
As he explained to Country Queer Spotlight in Episode 11, Troop comes from a musical frame of reference with a great mix of cultures. Throughout Borrowed Time, he tries to understand what people in Latin-American countries suffer in their path to the American Dream. “Hermano Migrante” finds its companion piece towards the end of the record: “Mercy for the Migrants” has the same meaning, and might work as a figurative translation.
“Sevilla” and “Django’s Palace” are instrumental pieces that give the album the perfect break at the perfect time. On the other hand, “Purdy Little Rainbows” and “Red White & Blues” explore themes Troop has stood up for throughout his career, using his platform as a musician to remind audiences that queer people are everywhere and have always been, even if big corporations only recently realized it.
“Heaven on Earth” gives Borrowed Time the closure this album needs, an optimistic celebration of the simple things in life and a reassuring urge that “friends, you and me are going somewhere.” It’s not just about the music, it’s also about the message you want to give and leave to your audience, which is perfectly encapsulated in the twelve tracks of Borrowed Time.
Ana Betancourt is a web developer and a journalist (a sweet and sour combination) who was born and raised in Guadalajara, México. She is a soccer freak, a country music fan, and is always looking for safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. The only “strait” thing in her life is George.