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4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Format: Vinyl|Change
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on 26 February 2015
Body Electric is a classic and if its your only reason for buying the album, its a good one. This band should be more famous. After the first time i heard it I found myself listening to Dylan's, 'Just Like Tom Thumbs Blues,' later on that day. I'm not trying to say there is a connection or make a comparison, but speaking personally it switched on the same part of my brain.
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On the surface this all seems rather unlikely. At the heart of Hurray for the Riff Raff is the figure of Alynda Lee Segarra a Bronx born Puerto Rican and veteran of the New York punk scene. When this music did not answer her calling she cut loose at the age of 17 to travel the US as an itinerant street musician and included some train hopping to boot. It appears that on this journey an epiphany occurred and into her veins was transplanted the blood of Guthrie, Seeger and the Stanley Brothers. “Small Town Heroes” is a roots album par excellence and if you like Lucinda Williams, Kathleen Edwards and particularly Gillian Welch you are in for a treat

For this fifth album Segarra and her fiddle player Yosi Perlstein have decamped to New Orleans and pulled in a cast of local musicians. It gives the album a nice Cajun Twist exhibited on the sprightly traditional sounding opener “Blue Ridge Mountain”. The slow blues of “Crash on the highway” sounds timeless but Segarra musical preoccupations go beyond the back porch. These are songs here that abhor violence, touch on feminism and seek to up date old country themes for the age of the Internet

The funky “No one Else” has a old rock n roll feel in terms of its shuffling rhythms and sassy vocal from Segarra. Even better is “St Roch Blues” where she is accompanied by a highly strung electric guitar for the first part of the song in a sort of twisted acappella as she warns you not to go down to New Orleans “as bullets are flying”. The short but brilliant “Body electric” is a old style murder ballad, which Nick Cave would be proud of; whilst the poignant “Levon’s Dream” is a little gem especially when she intones the opening lines “If Levon would play in the night dear/ Would you come back to my heart”. The gentle strum of “The New SF Bay Blues” almost floats above the album whilst the brilliant closer “Forever is just a day” is a high lament infused with a achingly slow fiddle and explicitly demonstrates Segarra’s great story telling talents.

The trick behind this excellent album is to look beyond what can seem like austere traditionalism and recognise an artist who is actively seeking to push forward a genre that has many miles left in its tank. Like Gillian Welch she does not perfectly comply with the “Ideal type” for this rootsy folk music, either in terms of background or attitude, yet as with the former her music fits the genre like a glove. “Small Town Heroes” is a sort of musical “Last Picture Show” an album full of images that strike deep into the American psyche and delivers music out of the top drawer.
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on 5 April 2014
Uncut has led me to another great modern day Americana album, along with Simone Felice's latest album (I am hoping The Delines album also matches up to the one track I've heard so far). Small Town Heroes features some sublime playing, instrumentation (especially on fiddle and harmonica) and harmony singing. There's a great twist on the murder ballad genre with the lyrics exploring how women are usually the victims in these songs. This surely has to be a contender for quite a few music prizes come the end of the year.
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on 26 September 2014
Small Town Heroes is the newest album from American band Hurray for the Riff Raff. It’s a labour of love, and a labour of love lost. It’s also a mixture of plunging reels and riffs, quiet sadness and the problematical deaths and little deaths that accompany us through life; things we must jettison in order to keep going.

The parts of Small Town Heroes that are least compelling are the parts that come least directly from Alynda Lee Segarra; Riff Raff’s singer and songwriter. The first half of the album’s given to more thematically bluegrass material; outlaws, firearms, drinking, playing guitar and John Henry’s hands, all washed over with riding and galloping banjo’s and strings. By far the most haunting songs on the album are the love songs – a more accurate description would be to call them longing songs. This is particularly the case with “St. Roch Blues” and “Levon’s Dream”, in which Segarra makes an ironic case for sorrow being the subject she’s most suited to.

On first listen, what’s most striking is how subtle the songs are. Paradoxically, Segarra barely insists on pain being known, as much as anyone who produces an album about pain can. Actually this makes the material more affecting is how casually happy the first half of Small Town Heroes is, because you realise how broken Seggara must be to sound like this. “St. Roch Blues” is like watching a friend drunkenly try to smile whilst crying. There’s a savage cruelty to see justice in the heartbreak of a person who’s looked at the world and found its purpose in fun. The triumph of Riff Raff is that by not insisting on your sympathy, they encourage you to be a little bit more forgiving of failure.

In “Levon’s Dream” they delicately pick their way through the shattered sadness of heartbreak into the unknown country beyond. Seggara doesn’t blame her lover, but instead manages a few beautiful words and wonders at all that might have been. She’s talked in interviews about regretting how much pain she caused her aunt and uncle by running away at 17 to hop trains. This sensitivity to pain runs throughout “Levon’s Dream”. Unfortunately, the country beyond is less compelling; more general comparative to the singular beauty of her doomed madrigals to the birds.

This isn’t necessarily surprising given the sudden accessibility of pain that follows heartbreak. The album works best when avoiding lines like “take me down the line” (folk music’s equivalent of “take me down town”). Such lines have been sung so many times they don’t need to be repeated. Similarly, to jauntily sing “love is just a game, we foolishly play” on “I Know It’s Wrong”, directly after “Levon’s Dream”, doesn’t sit well. We know it isn’t foolish, and when it’s the only game there is, what are you supposed to do? There’s no escaping heartbreak by painting it as a clown. As a line it would only work if sung aware of its tragedy. It’s the one song on Small Town Heroes that should be a ballad but isn’t.

The analysis of heartbreak leads to contemplation about “romantic suitability”. It’s easy to lose sympathy, but Segarra never does that. If she were a younger songwriter, you’d be inclined to suggest this triumph was luck, but it’s not in this case. She’s managed to write an album of heartbreak, rather than singing about a broken heart. She sings far more originally about heartbreak than dancing in barns because pain is much harder to share than dancing. The use of sorrow? More sorrow, and in this case a very beautiful yet sad album.

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on 12 November 2014
there are a couple of good tracks but much of a muchness
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on 26 April 2014
Third album I have bought by Hurray for the Riff Raff. The other two were excellent but this ones just goes up another notch. Think Gillian Welch without the David Rawlings guitar.
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on 31 December 2014
Brilliant album. Deserves its rave reviews
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on 31 July 2014
Excellent album I love every song,
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on 1 May 2014
Bought after reading excellent reviews in local and the national press.Terrific voice. Great arrangements. Something different. Delighted with this discovery.
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on 3 September 2014
well worth it! really good album
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