It’s about time Alynda Lee Segarra got some proper attention. After choosing to drift around North America in her teens and early twenties, working her way from The Bronx down to America’s southern party centre, New Orleans, Segarra started making music under her Hurray For The Riff Raff moniker in 2008, self-releasing two albums before combining them into a best of for 2011’s UK self titled debut. 2012’s Look Out Mama brought her some good press. Still only 26 those life experiences of being free and travelling the railroads have given her a wealth of stories to tell, and the years she’s since spent in New Orleans have only added to the library of people, places, and events that she can draw on.
Her band’s ever revolving line-up continues on their third official UK release, Small Town Heroes. The only constant for HFTRR is their consistency in utilising the full toolbox that American roots music has to offer. ‘Blue Ridge Mountain’ is classic bluegrass folk, there’s fab skiffle rock on ‘No One Else’, and tender country on ‘Levon’s Dream’. The central story of the album though are the trio of blues titled tracks: a sultry, folk tinged style on ‘Good Time Blues (An Outlaw’s Lament)’; the soft and sweet ‘The New SF Bay Blues’ and the slow build and release of heart-wrenching ode to a real life spate of murders in ‘St. Roch Blues’ (“I keep on crying / I keep on crying.”) delivers a devastating combination of music and passion.
Segarra’s response to the old American trope of murder ballads is ‘The Body Electric’ (“Shoot me down, put my body in the river / While the whole world sings, sing it like a song / The whole world sings like there’s nothing going wrong”), it's powerful and real and showcases her skill for playing with traditional roots music stereotypes, flipping them on their head at times, at others using them as they’ve been used for decades.
Along with the vividly written lyrics and expertly put together music, witness the use of space around the voice and distant fiddle on ‘Forever Is Just A Day’. It all hangs together on the warmth of Segarra’s voice; dripping with life experience and honesty it shines brightly throughout, especially on another standout track ‘End Of The Line’, where it wins out against the mix of fiddle and harmonica.
Small Town Heroes is in some ways a old fashioned album, though full of contemporary stories and themes, that uses the past to bring its characters and settings to life. Mostly though, Hurray For The Riff Raff have just straight produced one of the best American roots albums you’ll hear all year.