In the five plus years since songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra began the project, Hurray For The Riff Raff have always been a standout in the particular genre of waltzy folk-pop common among the groups of buskers and street musicians who’ve established formal musical partnerships in New Orleans. In a spectrum that is bounded by the delightful Bywater orchestra Why Are We Building Such A Big Ship? at it’s most baroque extreme, HFTRR’s country tinged ballads have existed comfortably at the opposite, more modestly appointed end.
While the band has undergone the requisite personnel shifts common in this city’s close knit community, the stylistic evolution of Hurray For The Riff Raff has really only taken a sharp turn in the last year as Segarra has stepped out as the band’s principal songwriter. The result, this month’s Look Out Mama, is an enchanting mix of all things Americana, with her acrobatically plaintive voice backed by sonically rich arrangements that still manage to be deceptive in their simplicity.
The album’s opening act, with the title track as a centerpiece, provide cool comfort to those familiar with Hurray For The Riff Raff’s simple, southern-folk origins, but in the rambling second half of Look Out Mama, Segarra and Co. assert themselves as far more than a simple, southern-folk band. The surfy guitar breaks in the rollicking “Lake Of Fire” add a rockabilly swing to an already danceable number, and whining harmonica in “Born To Win (Part 1)” gives the exaltive shanty a subdued, early-Crazy Horse sheen. But as an example of the diversity Hurray For The Riff Raff offers on their newest set, the sprawling “Ode To John and Yoko” is the album’s true standout. By the time you reach the song’s playful Rubber Soul-era Beatles coda, the nearly six minute tour de force of psychedelic backwards guitar and breathy background vocals has shown off both emotive ends of Alynda Lee’s impressive register as well as a daring slant to her natural songwriting talent.
Even with a few decided departures from their normally tradition-steeped sound, the even-handed and confidently restrained production of Look Out Mama (handled by the same Andrija Tokic behind Alabama Shakes’ much buzzed-about Boys and Girls) injects every tune with a familiar vulnerability and intrigue, consistently complementing Hurray For The Riff Raff’s subtle exploration and never seeming to clash with it.