Alynda Lee Segarra, the Puerto Rican behind Hurray For The Riff Raff, is certainly an interesting character. Her story is straight out of a country yarn; leaving the Bronx at 17 she explored the US via freight trains before settling in Louisiana. Here, backed by The Tumbleweeds, she has produced an album that captures perfectly that sense of freedom, excitement and vulnerability we associate with the romantic notion of touring big old America.
Her previous releases have received some rather impressive attention, with glowing reviews from The Times and Mojo, airtime on the BBC and use on HBO’s Treme. Look Out Mama, the new album out this week, looks to continue Segarra’s rise in the musical community. The main sense you get while hearing the music is one of timelessness. This may sound a tired cliché but with strong lyricism and a voice that wouldn’t be out of place alongside Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris, a real sense of history runs through these songs. Maybe prior knowledge of Segarra’s back-story influences thinking but you can’t help but feel that this is someone who has experienced all of the songs, lived through something and written it down, rather than made up based on old ideas.
The beauty of the album is how they manage to evoke so many different images in each song. Opener ‘Little Black Star’ has links to her time in New Orleans and wouldn’t be out of place in the French Quarter, whereas ‘Lake of Fire’ is much more of a rock song with a surfy Californian jangle. ‘Riley’ (a personal favourite) is again completely different, a dark and foreboding song that always threatens to explode but never quite does, a beauty underpinned with a desolation and violence that brings to mind a journey across a Western mountain range. Look Out Mama captures America. Not the country of Starbucks and SUVs but rather that old enchanting, welcoming and dangerous land that still perseveres in many minds today. A place that I truly hope still exists.
Country music has a bit of a bad reputation (at least here in the UK) so there is real reluctance on my part to use that word here. Maybe ‘Roots’ is more appropriate? Is there a better term to describe music that captures all of those small nameless American towns? Wind and dust and mountains? Hurray For The Riff Raff (along with other acts such as Mount Moriah) show that with good songwriting and a bit of emotion, ‘Country’ does not have to be a derogatory term.
Look Out Mama is released today (20th August) on Loose Music. We were lucky enough to get the chance to ask Alynda few questions so keep an eye out for them very soon.