With the release of Small Town Heroes, the buzz around Alynda Lee Segarra’s Hurray for the Riff Raff has exploded into a full-fledged roar—and for good reason. Released less than a year after the cover-heavy My Dearest Darkest Neighbor, Segarra’s major-label debut showcases original work that uses an ancestral tree of American music as a launch pad for broader statements about society and our place in the world.
Whether the subject is violence, escape or pure sunlit love; whether the tune’s roots lie in early blues, folk, protest music or country-Western swing, Segarra manages to distill big-picture ideas into smaller, more digestible elements and images, rendering them as powerful as they are poetic.
“Crash on the Highway” is, on one level, a familiar ode to a traveler’s yearning for home. But beneath its breezy, rolling meter and light-hearted references to roadside boozing is a darker warning to “take it easy on your narrow way,” a lyric that invokes Biblical danger or Dylan’s classic tune, if not both. Segarra also tackles sexual violence in dichotomous terms on “The Body Electric,” where a low-voiced refrain about “a man with a rifle in his hand” echoes until, at the very end, Segarra flips it and makes it personal by asking about the rifle-holder’s own daughter. Similarly, “St Roch Blues” is achingly pretty despite its message, thanks to elements like the quavering purr of her phrasing and the ’50s-era R&B rhythm that slides under lyrics about flying bullets.
Not that Small Town Heroes is without a dose of straight-up bliss. The addictive, up-tempo “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright)” sees a more countrified version of her band stretching out with rich harmonies as Segarra trades restraint for a little belting, proving she can do pop with as much passion as politics.