The “Shut Up and Sing” crowd isn’t going to love Che Apalache’s album, Rearrange My Heart, but the multi-national acoustic quartet is probably fine with that. Che Apalache play American music – specifically, a fusion of North, Central, and South American music – and are not afraid to infuse their music with a message that is all too relevant in 2019.
Che Apalache was formed by U.S. expatriate singer/songwriter/fiddler Joe Troop after his travels led him to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Joining Troop were Argentinians Franco Martino (guitar, backing vocals) and Martin Bobrik (mandolin, backing vocals) and Mexican Pau Barjau (banjo, backing vocals). Troop, who discovered both his love of bluegrass and his queer identity as a young teenager, had already traveled much of the world, soaking up music and language, by the time he met up with fellow bandmates.
Next up is “The Dreamer”, a more traditional bluegrass song that tells the story of Troop’s friend, a fellow North Carolina musician named Moises Serrano whose family immigrated from Mexico when Moises was a baby. Troop notes that Moises “grew up playing hide and seek / Amongst rhododendron branches / But his mama’s fear ran mighty deep / In the hills of Appalachia.”
While the lilting music and storytelling of “The Dreamer” present a quieter approach to addressing the current plight of immigrants in the United States, Troop and company are much more strident in an a cappella gospel tune called “The Wall”. Singing like they’re at a revival meeting, the band members acknowledge all the talk about wall-building along the southern US border, then declare, “if such nonsense should come true then we’ll have to knock it down”.
“The Wall” isn’t the only song that invokes that old-time religion to make a political point. “Rock of Ages” takes on religious hypocrisy among politicians, in which a Higher Power “heard how they used his name / He went and packed up his belongings / And he jumped an old freight train.” “Rearrange My Heart”, a more traditional prayer, is a simple but lovely plea for — and acknowledgment of — spiritual transcendence. Later, on “Over in Glory/New Swing”, a recent new resident in heaven points out to the Lord what a mess the world below has become. He notes, “Bringing folks together is a better way / Let your light shine through, Lord”, which could be the overall message of Rearrange My Heart.
Che Apalache save their most experimental musical moments for the second half of the Rearrange My Heart, which was produced by legendary banjo player Béla Fleck. “The Coming of Spring” is a hypnotic tune inspired by Troop’s time in Japan. “New Journey” initially sounds like it is going to be the most traditional bluegrass moment of the album, but then slows down considerably as the lyrics reveal themselves as a meditation on the last moments of life.
Joe Troop and his Che Apalache bandmates have much to say, lyrically and musically, on Rearrange My Heart. It will be fascinating to see where future travels take them.