I’m a little hesitant to say it, but Hurray For The Riff Raff’s The Navigator might be the first album to come out of 2017 that I truly love. Granted, at first I was hesitant to give this album even a listen, due to a number of factors that now seem trivial. First of all, the sort of gimmicky name behind this project led by Alynda Segarra (which I’d never listened to). Then the fact that Segarra’s songs have been described as roots rock or Americana, which can’t help but remind me of all the Mumford wannabe’s of the early ’10s. While that kind of music usually can’t help but feel overly quaint or archaic, especially when we’re being forced to live so much in the here and now these days.
And yet somehow, Hurray For The Riff Raff’s appreciation for the past (and in particular her own past) is what makes this feel like such a vital album, and oddly enough a potent deconstruction of what Americana really means. Segarra has kind of a unique perspective, in that she comes from a family of New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent, while she’s made her musical bones in the deep South of New Orleans, while much of her influences and mannerisms seem indicative of that region. Meanwhile, a few of the songs here (“Rican Beach” in particular) feel like protest songs in a time when such an outdated style of songwriting feels important again.
It’s kind of peculiar and also kind of beautiful, the way Segarra is able to weave a lot of rhythms that seem reminiscent of the Carribbean into song-types such as sea chanties or murder ballads, and yet it all feels quite natural. Of course, I think a big reason for this is that she’s just a great songwriter. These are songs that are breezy enough to get stuck in your head, while their messages often cut much deeper than Segarra’s always pleasant voice would indicate.
The album’s parting song “Pa’lante” would be the song that seems to cut the deepest, as she kind of just lays it all on the line and expresses a lot of the feelings of equal anxiety and hope for the future I think we’ve all been struggling with lately. And that makes it hard for me gauge whether I would’ve responded to this album as much in any other year, since these songs are quite good regardless of any outside factors. But I suppose there’s something about Segarra’s ability to make the personal political and vice versa, which for better or for worse makes The Navigator a perfect fit for 2017. Which is why I think we could all take a page from her by moving forward with an embittered refrain of “pa’lante”.
Favorite Tracks: “Living In The City”, “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl”, “Pa’lante”