Near as I can tell, there's nothing odd about a bluegrass band led by a fiddler from North Carolina. But what about a bluegrass band that was formed in Argentina and includes two players from that country as well as a fourth from Mexico? A band like that might just be fated to get slapped with the ever ill-defined "world music" label, regardless of their specialty. But better I should try to describe the music rather than jumping to generalizations I don't believe in.
It's bluegrass, yes, and more. The first thing you'll hear when you spin Che Apalache's Rearrange My Heart is a clapped-out clave pattern and a sung invitation, partially in Spanish, to pull up a chair and lend you ears. Doing so reaps many a reward and more than a few surprises. Soon "Maria" kicks in with a dual Americana/Latin sweep that also takes a turn into manouche sounds. It's followed by "The Dreamer," a timely tale about the plight of a DACA recipient who befriended Che Apalache fiddler and front man Joe Troop.
And the allusions to signs of our times don't stop there. Troop and his troup - banjo player Pau Barjau, mandolinist Martin Bobrick and guitarist Franco Martino - also nail some fine four part harmony singing, and the song most evident of that is "The Wall," an articulate but pointed jab at the nonsense passing for politics in the Trump era.
There's topicality to this album, and if that doesn't set it apart, the reach and range of the music certainly does. And when topicality and reach meet, great things result. The "Rock of Ages" here, for example, is not the old hymn of the same name but rather a sad lament about how far the alleged Christianity of today has strayed from the concerns it ought to be focusing on.
But there are also purely fun messages in this music, and a good deal of that comes from the skill of the players and their willingness to go beyond parameters. They coax sounds from their instruments that allow for adventures like the very far-eastern sounding "The Coming of Spring," which is sung in Japanese and transcribed that way in the liner notes. Such moments might make traditionalists bristle, though familiar fare that includes the genuinely spiritual title track will put them at ease. Anyone less than completely rigid as to how bluegrass should be rendered will find a lot to love about this most refreshing and risk-taking release. - Tom Orr
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