Hurray For The Riff Raff are one of those bands who’ve gone about being quietly spectacular for the past decade or so, never quite troubling the mainstream but ploughing on regardless. And thank goodness for that, because here, on their sixth album, their jaunty Americana morphs from something lovely into something utterly essential.
Fronted by the majestic Alynda Segarra, theirs is a music that is as diverse and compelling as America itself. Drawing upon everything from the 1930s dust bowl balladry of Woody Guthrie to the seamless soul of the Motown and Stax labels as well as Louisiana jazz and blues, Alynda’s own Puerto Rican heritage, the folksy 1960s stylings of The Band and Springsteen-worthy heartland rock gutsiness, it’s a heady sonic gumbo.Raised in the Bronx, New York but honing her craft in New Orleans, where she formed the band while busking on the city’s streets, it isn’t just Alynda’s strident vocal that’s powerful – it’s what she’s saying with it. A concept album about a street kid being forced out of her home in the face of gentrification and social cleansing, it is of course a reaction to the current political climate in the United States.
On ‘The Navigator’ Alynda stands up for the voiceless, the vulnerable and the invisible, from Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in 1941 but lives on in the stunning call to arms that is ‘Pa’lante’, to the protestors of Standing Rock, to which the shuffling bomba of ‘Rican Beach’ is dedicated. “Now all the politicians they just squawk their mouths/They said we’ll build a wall to keep them out,” she croons with barbed intent on this defiantly anti-Trump record, before offering a salient warning. “Now the poets were dying of a silence disease/So it happened quickly and with much ease.”
Serious stuff for sure, but doesn’t deliver its message with a po-face. ‘Living in The City’ is a fun doo-wop number while the title track is a sultry slice of mid-1980s Tom Waits-ian southern gothic. Hurray for the Riff Raff indeed.