Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Details: 12 tracks; 45 minutes
Who’s Choice: Gone Mild
Dan and I have not talked about this album too much, other than noting one sound alike that we both picked up on. Strangely enough, he heard about the group from his new habit of reading The Wall Street Journal. I bet the members of this band didn’t see that one coming.
Dan became a quick and enthusiastic fan of this album. Surprisingly, I had to warm up to this album. I wasn’t sold after my first few listens. It kicks off with a bluegrass tune where I believe someone is clogging, and then it is all over the place in style. There are ballads and folksy combos and bluesy honky tonk romps. Maybe I was in a bad mood those first listens, but there was also something that really annoyed me about the lead singer’s voice. There is a nasal thing going on that was all that I could pay attention to. And then there was a song where she spoke. Blech!
But then I was driving home one night and “St. Roch Blues” came on. I had heard the song before during my plays of the album, but I had not really listened to it.
Hurray from the Riff Raff has its roots in New Orleans. The lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra came to the city post a runaway sojourn that started in New York City. She is now in her mid-twenties and she has called NOLA home for several years. Several songs on the album refer to the city.
St. Roch is one of the neighborhoods that has suffered a great deal from the too common violence that has plagued the city. That night, as I drove and really heard the song, it was so pretty and so sad. The song evokes doowop singing on the street corner. Her vocal is clear and definitely blue. The finger snapping and occasional clap are really powerful in the mood of the song. Those minutes began my transition with the whole album.
I think that Segarra is a smartie. When I got down to paying attention to the songs and then doing some reading, I discovered tropes that she both respects and chides. There is a ballad called “The Body Electric” that promises to not ignore violence against women – a theme that is found not only in real life but in many a songwriter’s pen. The hard places that many of these songs come from, don’t play the victim. In the honky tonk number “I Know it’s wrong (but that’s alright)” she lays her message out with gusto. She is going to do what she wants to do.
The way that she plays with style started to make more sense when I realized what a student she is of roots music. “Crash On the Highway” sounds a cautionary note and a desire to get home, but does so in a style that sounds like it could be on the stage of Opreyland.
The instrumentation on this album is perfect for what it is. There is a lot of guitar picking. There is some Neil Young-ish harmonica playing and folksy fiddling. Piano comes in for honkytonk and spare chords.
I did my 180-degree on this one most definitely (but still blech on the talking thing).
Next Up: Sun Kil Moon, Benji (recommendation from Sam)