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Hurray for the Riff: more than just a great name

The Sinclair, Cambridge, Mass., April 5, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Hurray for the Riff Raff is one well-named group. Not that it signifies all that much musically, but at least it's catchy and makes you want to root for the underdog. With a lot to live up moniker wise, the band in concert - which, in reality, is lead singer Alynda Lee Segarra from New Orleans and her backing mates - more than lived up to the "pressure."

There was no doubt that the focus was squarely on Segarra, who underscored that by coming out solo acoustic on the opening "The New SF Bay Blues." As the sound man said after the show, "it's all about her voice," and he made sure to mix her voice very high. Smart move because it's a warm, expressive set of vocals that easily powers the music.

Segarra also played the warm leader of the band introducing most of the material, such as saying that John Lennon was a major influence of hers before launching into "Ode to John and Yoko." Several songs were on the political side, including "Everybody Knows," the opening song of the encore and "The Body Electric," a twist on the old-fashioned murder ballad concept where the woman always seems to be the victim. Not here.

Hurray for the Riff Raff's sound was a combination of country, blues and folk with a bit of Cajun. A good chunk of Hurray's "Small Town Heroes" CD, released last month, was served up during the 70-minute set that never flagged. Segarra touched on the country side with "Blue Ridge Mountain" and "Slow Walk."

Segarra was surrounded by a strong set of musicians at the sold-out venue including Yosi Perlstein on fiddle and David Maclay on upright and sometimes electric bass. Perlstein sprinkled numerous songs with fine fiddle playing. Keyboardist Casey McAllister lent his skills on lap steel and keyboards plus occasional backing vocals. While Segarra more than held her own vocally, perhaps more backing vocals could have empowered the songs even more.

Musically, Hurray smartly altered the sonics, such as percussion on several songs, harmonica on "End of the Line" and Segarra on banjo on "Here It Comes."

A name may be sufficient to draw attention to a band, but, ultimately, it is the music that needs to speak volumes. In this case, Segarra's riff raff did that and far far more.

Fellow New Orleans musician Benjamin Booker opened up with a rough-hewn set of blues and soul. Playing guitar, he led a trio that focused way more on the sonics than the lyrics because it was sometimes hard to understand what he was singing about. There was an intensity to the dense and very raw music. Booker is slated to release his debut on ATO (Hurray's label) this fall and produced by Andrija Tokic, who also engineered the headliner.