Last month I went to Hurray for the Riff Raff’s sold out show at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. Their headlining set began with the subtle force of Alynda Lee Segarra’s power alto, and oversized guitar, “Got the blues from my baby left me by the San Francisco Bay.” The music and the raw emotions of her performance washed over us. Reveling in one of the most culturally diverse crowds in Ballard’s notably white Americana scene and my six year obsession with this band... I just kept thinking …Hurray!
Hurray! that Hurray for the Riff Raff are swiftly becoming champions of misfit culture in Americana! (Hip, Hip) Hurray for Alynda and her crew of misfits; this year’s (and perhaps our generation’s) soundtrack for marginalized Americans in Americana music. Hurray for riff raff idols, like Woodie Guthrie and Kitty Wells! And for the lesser known misfits, like Deford Bailey and Patrick Haggerty. For the riff raff we say - hurray! For carrying old forms in new ways, all proud and complex with your radical riff raff nature and stalwart creativity! With a new album out on ATO records and a recent appearance on Conan O’ Brien, hurray for Small Town Heroes everywhere!
Here’s what I like about this album:
Sad truths in strong tones, full of unmatched vocal and lyrical honesty. My roomate says Fiona Apple. That shocked, then eventually sat okay with me: radical ladies covering the dark arts in strong and extraordinarily lovely tones.
The Rest of the Riff Raff
....are tight. Like really tight. An ever changing but finally seems-to-be-sticking New Orleans collective, these folks are well trained, well-busked members of their city’s unofficial and long running music bootcamp.
“St Roch Blues”
The album’s Southern gothic folk ballad, “St Roch Blues” infuses alternative rock, classic country and folk. The song is masterfully subtle, humbly sad, and the music video is a stunning respect piece on New Orleans life.
“No One Else”
I call this song’s genre No-Choice-But-To-Dance Soul. Plus I can’t get enough of Sam Doores’ (The Delondes) sweet, churchy vocal harmonies and parlor piano.
All about the Soul-twang, this song is tinged with gospel choir hooks and a flawlessly integrated Rock-N-Pull feel.
“The Body Electric”
100% Peace-Driven Art Activism! And the album’s most talked about song. Alynda tells the tale of a woman that goes back for her murdered friend–murdered in a murder ballad; intentionally giving voice to a long-held habit of murdering women in folk songs… a kind of folklore. This song is the anthem for those who love singing old-timey songs, but want to detach from the anti-female, anti-awesome, kill-culture of Americana’s murder ballads.
New Orleans and John Lennon
By telling Southern gothic tales of disenfranchisement, poverty and violence, Hurray for the Riff Raff is bringing the real New Orleans to Americana music and couching it in a queer-identified stance of marginalized groups in American Folklore. Alynda bellows tales of Southern Gothic Americana, but as a reflection of us all: “Said you’re gonna shoot me down put my body in the river, the whole world sings like there’s nothing going wrong...Tell me what’s a man with a rifle in his hand gonna do for a world so sick and sad.”
This band unapologetically knows where their music is coming from and wears their list of influences like a badge of honor. Most notably, unofficial band mascot John Lennon:
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love.
When we are afraid, we pull back from life.
When we are in love, we open to all that life
has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance.
We need to learn to love ourselves first,
in all our glory and our imperfections.
If we cannot love ourselves,
we cannot fully open to our ability to
love others or our potential to create.”
Hurray for the Riff Raff are well aware of Americana’s dirty habits. Alynda’s perspective as a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, and her musical partner Yosi Pearlstein’s perspective as a trans-identified old-timey fiddle player, puts Hurray for The Riff Raff front-and-center as a counter-culture cohort in American roots music. They are bustin’ through the swingin’ doors of honky tonks, bringing an unforced mix of acceptance and true grit that can break down barriers. Alynda and Yosi have a sibling-like connection and a stylized honesty that blends activism and traditional music into a catchy, people lovin’ PolitiArt, that sounds like Hank Williams and feels like John and Yoko. For the feminists and folks of color, for queer folks and anyone else alienated by traditional music, Hurray for the Riff Raff are quickly becoming country music icons.