As she took the stage last night to perform at Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s surprisingly cozy Masonic Lodge, I began to consider just how quintessentially American Alynda Lee Segarra’s story is. She was raised in the Bronx listening to their old R&B, doo wop and Motown with her Puerto Rican family, and though she lived with her aunt and uncle in New York, Segarra tried her hand at the punk scene downtown on the LES. While she didn’t feel she fit in there, anyone who has heard her music can trace the faint outlines of these early punk influences on her country blues. Restless in New York, she ran away from home at 17 and traveling as a hitch-hiker, sneaking rides on trains like an IRL Boxcar Kid, exploring the backwoods and uncovered towns of America. Isn’t it funny how New Yorkers wonder about small towns, and suburbs kids are drawn to New York?
After a period of roaming, Segarra ended up down in New Orleans, playing music with a group of people that eventually became her critically-acclaimed band Hurray For The Riff Raff. But before they did, the band released a handful of albums that didn’t get much movement in the mainstream. Segarra didn’t seem to mind, and continued churning out raw, blues-infused folk that leaned into orchestral fullness and diasporic reflections. Last night in the packed room, fans took a moment when Segarra switched from guitar to piano to shout out old favorites into the brief stillness. Though she laughed along with the fray, and found some of the ancient song suggestions surprising, it’s clear that the band’s frontwoman is fixed firmly in the present. Since their breakout in 2014 with Small Town Heroes, their first album for ATO records, national attention has finally descended on the small country band in the way it only sometimes does for bands who are on album six or seven.