31 August 2021

Joe Troop, bluegrass musician and radical activist

The BIB editor writes:

Thanks to Devon Léger of Hearth Music/ HearthPR for continuing news of multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter Joe Troop (right) of North Carolina, whose impact on the bluegrass scene can be expected to increase although some of his music comes from unfamiliar directions.

In June 2019 the BIB reported on Che Apalache, Troop's four-piece band formed in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Having won the Neo-Traditional Band contest at the 2017 Clifftop, WV, festival, in 2019 they signed with Free Dirt Records, released a second album, produced by Béla Fleck, and were being well received at festivals; for although the other three members and some of the band's material and style came from Latin America, they also embodied core bluegrass values in their solid drive, close harmonies, Troop's lead singing, and especially the banjo work of Pau Barjau from Mexico.

The pandemic and travel restrictions cut short the band's progress. Troop, undaunted, has since risen to the challenge as a solo artist. During the summer the single 'Purdy little rainbows' from his new Borrowed time album has been featured on the Bluegrass Situation, the video of 'Mercy for migrants' (featuring Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn) was premiered on Rolling Stone, and he has been interviewed on Billboard. On top of this, he has been increasingly active in support of migrants and other marginalised sections of society, while at the same time learning, in his words, 'not to demonise the opposition'.

This is not the normal career path for a bluegrass musician, but Troop (quite apart from his activism) has, In my view, earned the right to be taken very seriously as a bluegrass musician. First because, important as the words of his songs are, he uses his voice as an instrument, as the founding fathers of bluegrass did in their individual ways; secondly, his banjo style has evolved to meet his demands in the same way as that of a more obviously traditional - but very individual - bluegrass artist, the late Dave Evans. Plenty of his music can now be heard on YouTube.

© Richard Hawkins

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