Hurray for the Riff Raff @ Drygate Brewery, 20 Jan

Review by Harry Harris | 24 Jan 2017

Friday 20 January is a day that will go down in infamy, having seen the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Alynda Segarra, frontwoman and creative force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff, is as outspoken a political activitist as exists in music right now, so even before she goes on stage, you know she's going to be fired up.

First, a special mention for Edinburgh’s Roseanne Reid, who opens the show. Her self-penned country songs are full of sweetness and heartbreak, and she’s blessed with an incredibly rich, emotive voice. One to keep an eye out for.

Backed by a tight R'n'B band, the soft, porch-swing country of ...Riff Raff's wonderful Small Town Heroes record is replaced by something more urgent. When playing The Body Electric, a sort of feminist revival of the murder ballad trope, the plaintive violin riff that appears on the record is swapped out for crashing drums. This is a woman determined to have her voice heard, and she’s turning up the volume to do it.

This is reflected even more in the new tracks from upcoming record The Navigator. She introduces the first single, Rican Beach, as a protest song, and she roars every word of it. Without a guitar in hand, she's an exceptional band leader, commanding the stage like an old soul singer.

Given the overall atmosphere, it's fitting that the show ended with Segarra performing the Woody Guthrie classic This Land Is Your Land, the whole room singing along. By the final verse, she's struggling to fight back tears. You get the feeling that this is the start of a long road for Hurray for the Riff Raff over the next four years, maybe longer, but there’s no question of whether or not Segarra will see it through. Right now, Hurray for the Riff Raff are more important than ever.

Part of Celtic Connections festival 2017