Best known up until now as the banjo player and chief provocateur for the band Che Apalache, Joe Troop took heart with the arrival of 2021, thanks to the election of a new president and hope that a series of a new vaccines would finally put an end to the pandemic. While it has yet to work out the way he and the rest of us envisioned, it didn’t deter his desire to call out the division and distrust infesting the national psyche over the previous four years. At least that’s the mantra that takes center stage on Borrowed Time, Troop’s first album to bear his own name.
“I’ll hold your hand, you hold mine, Life on earth is borrowed time, And as long as we’re living we ought to strive to love along the way,” he urges his audience on Love Along the Way. It’s a song that effectively serves as the album’s centerpiece, while summing up the sentiment that ought to bind us all together, regardless of politics or one’s personal perspective.
An all-star ensemble — one which includes Béla Fleck, Charlie Hunter, Abigail Washburn, and Tim O’Brien, among others — helps him put his point across, retaining an easy accessibility that practically begs the listener to sing along. And while there’s no mistaking the message or meaning, Troop and company avoid any tendency to preach or pontificate in favor of songs that sway and caress while tugging at the heartstrings while sharing the sentiment.
That said, the music takes its cue from a broad geographical swath, one that extends from South America to North Carolina. He taps an Appalachian heritage on opening track Horizon, describes the plight of modern immigrants with Hermana Migrante and Prisoneros, songs that are sung in Spanish, offers an homage to care and compassion in Mercy for Migrants, and then finds middle ground on the bluegrass bolero of sorts titled Sevilla. He courts the queer community as found in rural realms on Purdy Little Rainbows, making it clear that he identifies with them as well. Red, White & Blues revels in a homespun homily while reciting a list of travails not uncommon to many of those whose main mission in life is simply to make their way through an endless succession of problems and pitfalls. Consequently, decidedly jaunty Heaven on Earth, states a case for putting aside pessimism, even when hope seems somewhat elusive and well out of reach.
More than simply an expression of passion and purpose, Borrowed Time becomes a meaningful ode to those better angels of our nature, and the goodwill that keeps them close, especially when they’re needed the most. Troop reminds us that no matter how difficult things seem to be, it’s always worth pursuing the promise of better times to come.