Album by album: HURRAY FOR THE RIFF RAFF
It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You
As with 2007’s “Crossing The Rubicon” EP, Walt McClements adds a gypsyish swagger to Alynda Lee Segarra’s prodigious first compositions. “Daniella” and “Here It Comes” remain mainstays of the Riff Raff live set.
Segarra: “It very dark and minor key, very circussy.”
McClements: “The sound that was popular on our little scene in New Orleans was heavy on the waltz. A lot of whimsical arrangement choices.”
Young Blood Blues
McClements’ last album with Segarra, as the influence of country music discreetly increases. Highlights of the first two Riff Raff albums were compiled for an eponymous UK release (Loose, 2011)
Segarra: “I was relying on Walt a lot. I didn’t really believe in myself enough You can hear we’re at the crossroads on that record on songs like ‘Take Me’ and ‘Young Blood Blues’ itself. I’m struggling to go in that direction.”
Look Out Mama
BORN TO WIN/LOOSE 2012
The mature breakthrough, as Segarra’s emerging love for Townes Van Zandt comes to the fore. Elegant barnstormers proliferate: “Little Black Star”, “Ode To John And Yoko”, the country-surf “Lake Of Fire”. The cover star is Segarra’s father, pictured while serving as a teenager in Vietnam.
Segarra: “When Sam [Doores] and Dan [Cutler] started playing with us we were finally able to say, ‘OK, now let’s actually learn how to play and write a country song.’ It was really exciting to be forced into this new genre.”
My Dearest Darkest Neighbor
MOD MOBILIAN/THIS IS AMERICAN MUSIC 2013
Recorded at the same time as Look Out Mama, a spare covers set that reveals the evolving musical influences on the band. Lennon (“Jealous Guy”) and Van Zandt (“Delta Momma Blues”) figure, alongside Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Leadbelly, Hank Williams and, critically, two songs by Gillian Welch.
Segarra: “I like to write out the lyrics of songs that really inspire me: it teaches you how it feels to write that song, it teaches you a lot about phrasing.”
Small Town Heroes
This year’s masterpiece, as Segarra’s original songs take on the simplicity and gravity of standards.
Segarra: “Someone will say, ‘You can’t talk about being down by the river anymore!’ Why not? It’s a great phrase. It would be silly of me to think I could completely invent a new phrase in a folk song. Why not just work with the best?”
Doores: “She’s able to take her most important feelings, and put them in this really simple vulnerable way that makes them universal. Every step of her life has been a big change, and there’ll be a song that captures that and gets her to the next level.”