I’ve been raving about Hurray For The Riff Raff for a couple years now. Their debut full-length is still a bit hard to find in the states, but it’s a great introduction to the music of New Orleans. I was shocked to see that My Dearest Darkest Neighbor was being released this past week-I thought it was out for a year already! I checked my iTunes account, and sure enough it was added on May 24th of last year. I did some checking and it turns out the album was given to people who donated money to the bands Kickstarter that helped them release Look Out Mama last year. That album ended up in my top ten of the year.
My Dearest Darkest Neighbor is a different sort of album, though. Mostly, it’s covers of folk and country songs by people like Townes Van Zant and Hank Williams, as well as a couple by former Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison. It also features two written by lead singer/songwriter Alynda Lee Segarra. It’s a good balance of very traditional songs with new arrangements and more contemporary tunes with a fresh take. At their worst the covers are just good songs done well. At their best they are brilliantly realized versions of other people’s work.
It’s hard not to love this albums version of “Jealous Guy” by Lennon. Segarra’s voice fits the material perfectly-vulnerable and emotionally raw. Her use of vibrato is brilliant in conveying the feeling of the song, and it’s interesting hearing it sung by a female. Lennon’s version is the stuff of legend, of course, but this one carries some weight and should definitely be taken seriously.
Most of the songs are fairly sparse, done acoustically and with minimal sound other than a voice and a guitar. Never is this felt more than on Gillian Welch’s “My Morphine.” (except for the electrified guitar, I suppose). It’s a sad song if ever there was one, and this version sounds like it was recorded in the darkest of solitudes. You can almost feel the walls closing in on you as Alynda Lee yodels her heartache into the night.
“Cuckoo” is one that Segarra wrote, and it fits in well with these classics. Another slow, sad country ballad about lost love in the great tradition of those who came before. Like all Hurray For The Riff Raff songs, it’s well written and here it is beautifully performed. Segarra sings:
“Jack of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds, you have robbed me and now I’m poor. How I wish I had Jack of Diamonds, when I was on that gamblin’ floor. Gonna ride my horse of auburn, to the valley where there ain’t no pain. I am going out to the country, where there ain’t no one knows my name.”
If you haven’t checked out Hurray For The Riff Raff yet, I’m not sure what’s stopping you. Head over to their Bandcamp page and you can hear all these covers right now. If you like what you hear, I can’t urge you enough to go buy Look Out Mama. If you’re on Spotify you can hear it there. It’s a fantastic record that I’ve listened to at least 50 times now. I really just can’t say enough good things about that album and this band. I’m thrilled to finally be seeing them live this October, even if I have to go all the way to LA to do it.