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Hurray for the Riff Raff - Ramblin' Round
on 31 March 2014
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.