Hurray For The Riff Raff
Hurray For The Riff Raff is Alynda Lee Segarra, but in many ways it's much more than that: it's a young woman leaving her indelible stamp on the American folk tradition. If you're listening to her new album, Small Town Heroes, odds are you're part of the riff raff, and these songs are for you.
"It's grown into this bigger idea of feeling like we really associate with the underdog," says Segarra, who came to international attention in 2012 with Look Out Mama. The album earned her raves from NPR and the New York Times to Mojo and Paste, along with a breakout performance at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, which left American Songwriter "awestruck" and solidified her place at the forefront of a new generation of young musicians celebrating and reimagining American roots music. "We really feel at home with a lot of worlds of people that don't really seem to fit together," she continues, "and we find a way to make them all hang out with our music. Whether it's the queer community or some freight train-riding kids or some older guys who love classic country, a lot of folks feel like mainstream culture isn't directed at them. We're for those people."
Segarra, a 26-year-old of Puerto Rican descent whose slight frame belies her commanding voice, grew up in the Bronx, where she developed an early appreciation for doo-wop and Motown from the neighborhood's longtime residents. It was downtown, though, that she first felt like she found her people, traveling to the Lower East side every Saturday for punk matinees at ABC No Rio. "Those riot grrrl shows were a place where young girls could just hang out and not have to worry about feeling weird, like they didn't belong," Segarra says of the inclusive atmosphere fostered by the musicians and outsider artists who populated the space. "It had such a good effect on me to go to those shows as a kid and feel like somebody in a band was looking out for me and wanted me to feel inspired and good about myself."
The Lower East Side also introduced her to travelers, and their stories of life on the road inspired her to strike out on her own at 17, first hitching her way to the west coast, then roaming the south before ultimately settling in New Orleans. There, she fell in with a band of fellow travelers, playing washboard and singing before eventually learning to play a banjo she'd been given in North Carolina. "It wasn't until I got to New Orleans that I realized playing music was even possible for me," she explains. "The travelers really taught me how to play and write songs, and we'd play on the street all day to make money, which is really good practice. You have to get pretty tough to do that, and you put a lot of time into it."
"The community I found in New Orleans was open and passionate. The young artists were really inspiring to me," she says. "Apathy wasn't a part of that scene. And then the year after I first visited, Katrina happened, and I went back and saw the pain and hardship that all of the people who lived there had gone through. It made we want to straighten out my life and not wander so much. The city gave had given me an amazing gift with music, and it made me want to settle there and be a part of it and help however I could."
Many of the songs on Small Town Heroes reflect that decision and her special reverence for the city. She bears witness to a wave of violence that struck the St. Roch neighborhood in the soulful "St. Roch Blues;" yearns for a night at BJ's Bar in the Bywater in "Crash on the Highway;" and sings of her home in the Lower Ninth Ward on "End of the Line." "That neighborhood and particularly the house I lived in there became the nucleus of a singer songwriter scene in New Orleans," she explains. "'End Of The Line' is my love song to that whole area and crew of people."
The scope of the album is much grander than just New Orleans, though, as Segarra mines the deep legacies and contemporizes the rich variety of musical forms of the American South for the age of Trayvon Martin and Wendy Davis. "Delia''s gone but I'm settling the score," she sings with resolute menace on "The Body Electric," a feminist reimagining of the traditional murder ballad form that calls on everything from Stagger Lee to Walt Whitman. She juxtaposes pure country pop with the dreams and nightmares that come with settling down with just one person in "I Know It's Wrong (But That's Alright)," while album opener "Blue Ridge Mountain" is an Appalachian nod to Maybelle Carter.
NPR has said that Hurray for the Riff Raff's music "sweeps across eras and genres with grace and grit," and that's never been more true than on 'Small Town Heroes.' These songs belong to no particular time or place, but rather to all of us. These songs are for the riff raff.
Named 2013’s Album of the Year by the London Sunday Times and Songlines magazine, Leyla McCalla’s debut album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, made a profound impression upon all who heard it. The record, which set some of Hughes’ poems to Leyla’s music, and also included original compositions and Haitian folk songs, received rapturous reviews for its haunting mixture of music and message.
A Haitian-American who sings in French, Haitian Creole and English, Leyla McCalla plays cello, tenor banjo and guitar. Deeply influenced by traditional Creole, Cajun and Haitian music, as well as by American jazz and folk, her music is at once earthy, elegant, soulful and witty — it vibrates with three centuries of history, yet also feels strikingly fresh, distinctive and contemporary.
Offbeat called Vari-Colored Songs “ambitious, deep and gorgeous,” while the Boston Globe described the record as “at once varnished and sparse, like field recordings in high definition.” The track “Heart of Gold” was featured on NPR, which noted that the song’s instrumentation “sounds like lonesome nighttime.” But it was the New York Times who perhaps put best, characterizing the album’s material as “weighty thoughts handled with the lightest touch imaginable.”
Born in New York City to Haitian immigrant parents, and raised in suburban New Jersey (with a couple of teenage years spent in Accra, Ghana), Leyla experienced a renewed sense of connection with her Haitian heritage after moving to the Crescent City in 2010. “I feel very at home here,” she says. “The more I learned about the history of Louisiana, its ties to Haiti and French speaking culture, the more sense of belonging I felt and continue to feel.”
The relocation led to her appearance on the Carolina Chocolate Drops’ GRAMMY-nominated 2012 album Leaving Eden, as well as extensive concert dates as a touring member of the group. It also deeply enriched Leyla’s own music and sharpened her sense of purpose, setting her on the path that ultimately resulted in the making of Vari-Colored Songs.
Now, having toured extensively in the U.S., Europe and Israel in support of Vari-Colored Songs, Leyla is focusing on her next album. Titled A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey, the album will be released in the spring of 2016 by Jazz Village/Harmonia Mundi. Named after the Haitian proverb that also provided the title of Gage Averill’s 1997 book about popular music, power and politics in Haiti, A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey will continue to explore the themes of social justice and pan-African consciousness that marked Vari-Colored Songs. “I can’t help but be inspired by history, as well as what’s going on today,” Leyla says. Featuring songs sung in English, French and Haitian Creole, A Day For The Hunter, A Day For The Prey will include guest appearances by legendary guitarist Marc Ribot, Rhiannon Giddens of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Louis Michot of the Lost Bayou Ramblers, and New Orleans singer-songwriter/guitarist Sarah Quintana. “There’s a lot of goodness around this record,” Leyla says. “There will be new arrangements of traditional songs, but maybe a third of the album will also be original material. I’m really interested in continuing to develop that part of my work — and I’m really excited to be moving forward creatively.”
When you are at a Ron Gallo show leaning against the bar whining to your roommate about last night you will probably get called out and like it, you might get accidentally whacked by a guitar headstock or your phone punted, you might find yourself succumbing to the internal animalistic feelings you've been suppressing all week and you might even leave a slightly better person. It is a confrontational show with good intention, like a final punch before everything goes to shit. If you say hello afterwards, you might be shocked to be greeted by a genuinely friendly and grateful person that 5 minutes ago looked like a terrifying spastic red-faced maniac.
Formerly the frontman of Philadelphia based rock and roll band, Toy Soldiers, Gallo has gone through the return of Saturn and the wringer of life over the last couple of years and has come out the other side a person that dances where the infuriated fighter-of-the-good-fight and the observational jokester hang out. Like some big-haired spiritual punk raised in the 90s, Gallo is well-informed of the 20th century roots of American music and obsessed with the NOW in a time where people are drugged by distraction, bullshit and mediocrity. On Gallo's second solo record, HEAVY META (out early 2017), he candidly tackles the heavier topics and dark experiences he lived through during these transformative years.
From his personal ideology on refraining from drug and alcohol use, self-empowerment, domestication, dead love, not knowing someone or yourself, having a stalker, the "struggle" of being an "artist" in 2016, to the disastrous cycle created by terrible parenting, mental illness and post-apocalyptic tales of a world where "all the freaks have gone to bed," this record reflects its subject matter drenched in aggression, fuzz, and walls of Gallo's unconventionally primal approach to the guitar. It is a lyrically driven album laid upon a bed of electricity attempting to wake you up with each listen.
Gallo does not enjoy sitting still so has spent a good portion of the last few years and will spend the foreseeable future on the road backed by Joe Bisirri on bass and Dylan Sevey on drums: Coming to a hole in the wall, night club, backyard, theater, basement, Hardee's, Sleepy's Mattress Store, or arena near you. Gallo has appeared at Bonnaroo, SXSW, CMJ, Audiotree, Daytrotter and has received praise from renowned publications such as The FADER, Under the Radar, BrooklynVegan, PASTE among others.
"HEAVY META" will be released at some point in early 2017, but the "RG3 EP" is currently available on American Diamond Recordings, a record label run by Gallo out of his room in the Bordeaux neighborhood of Nashville, TN as of new years day 2016. The mission statement of American Diamond (as well as Gallo himself) is, "ROCK AND ROLL ISN'T DEAD... YOU ARE."