By Robert Dean
When I sat down to listen to Che Apalache, I had no expectations. I didn't have any preconceived notions, because I'd never heard of them, they were just another email in my inbox. Upon listening to their new record, Rearrange My Heart, everything stopped, because in what's one of the rare times in a music critic's life, what's there is something new, something different, and truthfully, it's hard to put a pin on precisely what Che Apalache is doing because it's important.
How you describe the band is a lot of things, it's like, queer Latin country/gospel/bluegrass?
Whatever you call it, the music, the vibe, the sound is not your run of the mill yodeling over some banjos we've heard time and time again. Instead, the music on Rearrange My Heart is all over the place, it's a little bit of the hills, but then has world music baked into the soul, as well. Trying to place your finger on what Che Apalache is doing is hard, there's just so much going on, but that's also probably reflective of why world-renowned musician and bandleader Bela Fleck got involved and produced the project.
The themes featured throughout Rearrange My Heart aren't good timey songs about running from the law or drinking dark whiskey in the hills, but instead, run much deeper. "The Dreamer" tells the story of Moises Serrano, a queer DACA recipient from North Carolina, while this story is heavy-duty, it also doubles with intensity considering bandleader Joe Troop is queer from North Carolina, who also happens to be a polymath, polyglot, and a world traveler – I told you there was a lot going on here.
Needless to say, the record is filled with many heavy themes, broadcasting identity notwithstanding. Troop was raised in the North Carolina Piedmont, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, and learned his craft hitting bluegrass open mics and all-night jam sessions. But, Troop didn't stick around in the area for long but instead split for Europe's friendlier climate. Troop was a young, gay, musician raised deep within a red state, so instead of battling it out, he studied Spanish in Spain, spent summers in Morocco, and eventually moved to Japan.
But, despite all of the moving around, Troop kept playing and forming the idea of Che Apalache, while infusing flamenco, jazz, and swing. In 2010, Joe immigrated to Argentina and began teaching bluegrass.
Almost a decade later, Che Apalache, led by Troop, features three powerhouse Latin American musicians – two from Argentina, Franco Martino (guitar), Martin Bobrik (mandolin), and one from Mexico, Pau Bajau (banjo) – and are blowing people away with the album's eclectic mix of sounds, styles, and harmonies. Some tunes are crazy political, while others are sung in Japanese. There are no dull corners for Che Apalache, and throughout the record, there's a never-ending supply of though-provoking progression that simply doesn't sound like anything you've heard. If you're looking for your next musical challenge, this is an excellent place to start.