It was probably a given that many of the acts appearing at this year’s Celtic Connections will have a public opinion of sorts on the 45th President of The United States. No real surprise then, on the day of his inauguration, that Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra was at times angry, fiercely proud in her opposition and then visibly upset at the prospect of his term. As a Puerto Rican gay woman she is firmly in the potential firing line here but she’s never shied away from political statements and she’s certainly not going to start now.
What was surprising was the new direction of the band (with a new line up) which has left her mainly acoustic based rootsy Americana behind and firmly grasped rock’n’roll with portions of the set tonight pumped full of bass driven adrenaline riffs with Segarra like a younger Patti Smith as she whipped into the songs. The five piece (Segarra plus bass (wearing a Not My President T shirt), guitar, drums and keyboards) shimmied at times with Latin beats, Dylan and The Band mercury rock and Solomon Burke soulful chimes and mid set there was a brief nod to the earlier incarnation with the easy riding Good Time Blues and a fine delivery of Blue Ridge Mountain. However, it was the songs from the forthcoming album The Navigator which were prominent tonight. Rican Beach clatters along with a south of the border pulse beat, guitarist Jordan Hyde scattering notes like shards of glass over a parping Farfisa like organ. Introduced by Segarra with, “there’s a dangerous man who now is our President; this is a protest song” there’s no punches pulled here. Equally powerful was Hungry Ghost which at times reminded this reviewer of PJ Harvey.
It was a short set but the packed crowd were certainly invigorated by the end. An encore of St. Roch Blues (Segarra, “we’re not going to stop fighting for justice”) was an extended foray into old fashioned soulful R’n’B before the band left Segarra alone on the stage for a solo delivery of Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. This was a genuinely moving moment, the crowd (presumably somewhat lacking Trump supporters) joined in gustily and when Segarra had to briefly pause, her voice choked, they willed her to resume and sang to the rafters. It looks like the gloves are off.
In marked contrast was the support from Roseanne Reid, a Scot who, despite her youth, is well versed in the likes of writers such as Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle and Mary Gauthier. Playing several songs from her EP Right On Time (including Amy, I Come From The North Country) along with a new song composed that day Reid sings well in a wearied and worn voice that fits her song settings. No wonder she was a nominee for Radio 2’s Young Folk Award in 2015.