From the album ‘Small Town Heroes’ out 2/11/14.
Hurray For The Riff Raff is Alynda Lee Segarra, but in many ways it’s much more than that: it’s a young woman leaving her indelible stamp on the American folk tradition. If you’re listening to her new album, ‘Small Town Heroes,’ odds are you’re part of the riff raff, and these songs are for you.
“It’s grown into this bigger idea of feeling like we really associate with the underdog,” says Segarra, who came to international attention in 2012 with ‘Look Out Mama.’ The album earned her raves from NPR and the New York Times to Mojo and Paste, along with a breakout performance at the 2013 Newport Folk Festival, which left American Songwriter “awestruck” and solidified her place at the forefront of a new generation of young musicians celebrating and reimagining American roots music. “We really feel at home with a lot of worlds of people that don’t really seem to fit together,” she continues, “and we find a way to make them all hang out with our music. Whether it’s the queer community or some freight train-riding kids or some older guys who love classic country, a lot of folks feel like mainstream culture isn’t directed at them. We’re for those people.”
Segarra, a 26-year-old of Puerto Rican descent whose slight frame belies her commanding voice, grew up in the Bronx, where she developed an early appreciation for doo-wop and Motown from the neighborhood’s longtime residents. It was downtown, though, that she first felt like she found her people, traveling to the Lower East side every Saturday for punk matinees at ABC No Rio. “Those riot grrrl shows were a place where young girls could just hang out and not have to worry about feeling weird, like they didn’t belong,” Segarra says of the inclusive atmosphere fostered by the musicians and outsider artists who populated the space. “It had such a good effect on me to go to those shows as a kid and feel like somebody in a band was looking out for me and wanted me to feel inspired and good about myself.”
The Lower East Side also introduced her to travelers, and their stories of life on the road inspired her to strike out on her own at 17, first hitching her way to the west coast, then roaming the south before ultimately settling in New Orleans. There, she fell in with a band of fellow travelers, playing washboard and singing before eventually learning to play a banjo she’d been given in North Carolina. “It wasn’t until I got to New Orleans that I realized playing music was even possible for me,” she explains. “The travelers really taught me how to play and write songs, and we’d play on the street all day to make money, which is really good practice. You have to get pretty tough to do that, and you put a lot of time into it.”
“The community I found in New Orleans was open and passionate. The young artists were really inspiring to me,” she says. “Apathy wasn’t a part of that scene. And then the year after I first visited, Katrina happened, and I went back and saw the pain and hardship that all of the people who lived there had gone through. It made we want to straighten out my life and not wander so much. The city gave had given me an amazing gift with music, and it made me want to settle there and be a part of it and help however I could.”
Many of the songs on ‘Small Town Heroes’ reflect that decision and her special reverence for the city. She bears witness to a wave of violence that struck the St. Roch neighborhood in the soulful “St. Roch Blues;” yearns for a night at BJ’s Bar in the Bywater in “Crash on the Highway;” and sings of her home in the Lower Ninth Ward on “End of the Line.” “That neighborhood and particularly the house I lived in there became the nucleus of a singer songwriter scene in New Orleans,” she explains. “‘End Of The Line’ is my love song to that whole area and crew of people.”
The scope of the album is much grander than just New Orleans, though, as Segarra mines the deep legacies and contemporizes the rich variety of musical forms of the American South for the age of Trayvon Martin and Wendy Davis. “Delia”s gone but I’m settling the score,” she sings with resolute menace on “The Body Electric,” a feminist reimagining of the traditional murder ballad form that calls on everything from Stagger Lee to Walt Whitman. She juxtaposes pure country pop with the dreams and nightmares that come with settling down with just one person in “I Know It’s Wrong (But That’s Alright),” while album opener “Blue Ridge Mountain” is an Appalachian nod to Maybelle Carter.
NPR has said that Hurray for the Riff Raff’s music “sweeps across eras and genres with grace and grit,” and that’s never been more true than on ‘Small Town Heroes.’ These songs belong to no particular time or place, but rather to all of us. These songs are for the riff raff.
Judy Day to Day
This is the first of several song commissions I’ll be creating over the next couple of months for some of the people who contributed to our recent crowdfunding campaign. “Judy Day to Day” is a Valentine’s Day present for a colleague’s wife, a celebration of their domestic life, a love letter to Judy.
Written & composed by Ellia Bisker
Ukulele & vocals: Ellia Bisker
Bass: Phil Andrews
Jackie Ormes (August 1, 1911 – December 26, 1985) is known as the first African American female cartoonist. Her strips, featuring the lovable characters Torchy Brown, Candy, Patty-Jo, and Ginger, appeared in the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier in the 1930s - 1950s.
Jackie Ormes said, “No more…Sambos…Just KIDS!” and she transformed her attractive, spunky Patty-Jo cartoon character into the first upscale American black doll. At long last, here was an African American doll with all the play features children desired: playable hair, and the finest and most extensive wardrobe on the market, with all manner of dresses, formals, shoes, hats, nightgowns, robes, skating and cowgirl costumes, and spring and winter coat sets, to name a few. (Jackie Ormes Online)
YES Jackie Ormes! She was one awesome, stylish, groundbreaking lady.
ROADS is a contemporary and highly creative International lifestyle brand based in Dublin, Ireland.
A fun interview with ROADS Luxury Goods, which includes many opinions about not only music but also movies, books, and scents.
Kotorino feature’s gloriously loose and sumptuous sound features on this week’s show. A good showing from Brooklyn this week along with Italy, Cambridge,
Sweet Soubrette is in some good company in the latest edition of this UK-based podcast…
The new Sweet Soubrette album, Burning City, is officially released!
Listen/purchase: Burning City by Sweet Soubrette
AVAILABLE DIGITALLY WORLDWIDE JAN. 21, 2014
Sweet Soubrette’s dark, edgy love songs…
"One on One" Session, Jan 7, 2014
Sweet Soubrette’s Ellia Bisker and Heather Cole play an intimate “One on One” acoustic duo session, featuring some of the songs from new album “Burning City” plus an old favorite and a brand new song.
Shot by Ehud Lazin.
Thanks so much for being part of Sweet Soubrette’s 2013. It’s been a big year!
As we prepare for what’s next (for instance our upcoming show at Pianos on January 20 – please save the date!) here’s some of what happened in 2013:
We recorded a new album: Burning City officially releases on iTunes and elsewhere on January 21, and you can pre-order the album or listen to some of the tracks on our bandcamp page. Early feedback since our limited physical release has been overwhelmingly positive, and we’re really excited to see where this record goes in 2014.
We made a music video: “Be My Man” involved 2 days of shooting, 4 sparkly dresses, 5 people on camera, 5 people behind the scenes, 30 telephone cords, months of editing, and over 1,500 views since its release in September!
We played some great shows: local appearances included Jalopy and Public Assembly in Brooklyn, LIC Bar in Queens, and The Living Room and Rockwood Music Hall in Manhattan, with touring gigs at the Ladybug Festival (Wilmington, DE), The Legendary Dobbs (Philadelphia, PA), Musica (Hudson, NY), and the Roxy (Los Angeles, CA). Look for us on the road in 2014, and let us know if you have ideas for where we might play in your town.
We got some nice press:
Philthy Mag ran an interview just last week, The Expandable and Collapsible Sweet Soubrette (in which the interviewer opines that I “could be the femme fatale lead in pretty much any of the worth-seeing entries of film history”).
New York Music Daily said some nice things in its early review of Burning City: “Lush, resonant chamber pop…Ellia Bisker’s eclectic tunesmithing has recently taken a deliciously lurid, noir direction…it’s no surprise that she’d color the songs on Burning City…with punchy brass and enigmatic, ominously hovering strings. Bisker has also taken her vocals to the next level….Her band here is excellent.”
Our single “Rock Paper Scissors” was featured in Suffolk n Cool, an indie rock podcast from the east coast of England, which said “Burning City’s strong songwriting and powerful execution make this album Sweet Soubrette’s best work to date.” And we wrote a bunch of new songs: Some are available for free on bandcamp. Some are being worked on in secret. One is a new holiday song, “The Gift of the Magi” (inspired by the classic O. Henry short story), which you can stream here.
Thanks again for being part of what we do — by listening to our music, coming to our shows, keeping up with our doings, and supporting our efforts!
Wishing you a very happy new year, and looking forward to seeing you in 2014.