Alynda Lee Segarra was just 17 when she ditched her home in the Bronx to hop a freight train bound for California, a move that — in an era in which Dickensian costuming is considered high-fashion, and Americana dominates the zeitgeist — feels a little like it was cribbed from a discarded Coen Bros. script: a story so real it can’t be real.
And yet: A washboard tucked under her arm, a teenaged Segarra criss-crossed America by rail before settling in New Orleans in the mid-2000s, where she took up with the cabal of street musicians who eventually became her backers in Hurray for the Riff Raff. Small Town Heroes is the band’s sixth long-player, and Segarra’s first for a major indie label. Here, she makes the machinations of heartbreak sound easy, or at least beautiful, her soft, doleful voice never rising to a wail. “All these people, and all these things/ Now what’s the point in a wedding ring?” she sings on the title track. Only it’s clear Segarra knows exactly what the point of it is, and she feels its absence every single day. “I don’t want no one else but you,” she admits in “No One Else,” over a bass line cribbed from “Stand By Me” and a big, barrelhouse piano riff. “I think it’s time you come on back home.”
Segarra eventually gave up the washboard for the banjo, and has since traded in her banjo for a guitar; her bandmates contribute fiddle, organ, harpsichord, cello, viola, bass and light percussion. These are classic folk compositions, unhurried and loose, and they almost always sound as if they were being spontaneously rendered, which allows for a kind of intimacy that’s rare on record these days. Small Town Heroes is a record you keep close when you need closeness.