Album Review: The Navigator by Hurray for the Riff Raff
Excellent, Based on 13 Critics
The Observer (UK) - 100 Based on rating 5/5
O n their sixth album, Hurray for the Riff Raff have come full circle, ending up where the band's songwriter, Alynda Segarra, started off. If that sounds like a lacklustre plug for one of the albums of the year, it really shouldn't be. The Navigator represents a return from years of wandering - or, as Segarra puts it: "I've been a hungry ghost," referencing the far eastern myth of the restless spirit for whom food offerings are left out.
Alynda Lee Segarra, the creative force behind Hurray for the Riff Raff, spent her formative years crisscrossing the country on greyhounds and freight trains. She climbed from the streets of New Orleans to the airwaves of NPR with a washboard and a banjo, a Horatio Alger narrative for the Americana set. Her last LP, Small Town Heroes , felt like a thesis presentation from a student of American folk music.
Last time out, we had Alynda Lee Segarra pegged. Raised in the Bronx, rejected her Puerto Rican heritage, moved to New Orleans, formed a band that went from busking to being signed to ATO over the space of five increasingly well-received Americana albums. The story was written. Except in 2016, Segarra found herself wanting to write a different story.
New Musical Express (NME) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
Hurray For The Riff Raff are one of those bands who've gone about being quietly spectacular for the past decade or so, never quite troubling the mainstream but ploughing on regardless. And thank goodness for that, because here, on their sixth album, their jaunty Americana morphs from something lovely into something utterly essential. Fronted by the majestic Alynda Segarra, theirs is a music that is as diverse and compelling as America itself.
The theory of "getting back to your roots" has become such a cliché, it's hard to take it seriously. Add recording tunes to create a conceptual song cycle and the project already seems hopelessly mired in tired formula. Thankfully that didn't concern Alynda Segarra, a.k.a Hurray for the Riff Raff. After eight years and four prior releases, Segarra was ready for something different.
"I feel that the soul of New York is under attack," Americana songwriter and Bronx native Alynda Segarra recently said. Her sixth album as Hurray for the Riff Raff pushes back against gentrification and, more broadly, Trumpification; alongside that, Segarra personalises the political by foregrounding her Hispanic roots. If that sounds as if it's a recipe for unmitigated worthiness, be assured that folk melodies and wild-hearted Latin beats play as big a role as Segarra's flamethrower polemics - Living in the City and Hungry Ghost even share stylistic soft-rock territory with Sheryl Crow.
On her previous five albums as Hurray for the Riff Raff, singer/songwriter Alynda Segarra subscribed to an audacious, far-reaching definition of Americana, but she's never been as ambitious as she is on 2017's The Navigator. A pseudo-autobiographical concept album partially inspired by Segarra's first listen to David Bowie's The Rise & Fall of Ziggy Stardust, The Navigator follows the journey of Navita, a Puerta Rican folk-punk who discovers her identity and sharpens her politics as she journeys through the boroughs of New York City. Although Segarra's story is relatively easy to parse, the pleasure in The Navigator lies not in the narrative but rather its ideas.
Bronx native Alyndra Segarra is best known as a New Orleans based musician thanks to her work with the Crescent City band Hurray for the Riff Raff. This time, she leads the combo back to her Nuyorican roots. Segarra literally serves as The Navigator on this 12 track journey into the past where memory, poetry, myth, and reality mix to create a rich, spicy and hearty guisada.
THE NAVIGATOR‘S TITLE CHARACTER IS a restless young Puerto Rican woman from New York - "ready for the world", but guarded. She charts her course through destruction, indifference and the city's sounds: doo wop (Entrance), Lou Reed-y rock'n'roll (Living In The City), even indie rock (Hungry Ghost). It's not until she stares clear-eyed at those closest to her that the way is clear: she's to honour her Latin and Caribbean roots in story and sound.
Hurray for the Riff Raff may be based in New Orleans, but the folk-blues and Americana band's The Navigator is steeped in the sounds of the Bronx, frontwoman Alynda Segarra's hometown. A concept album following a young Segarra proxy named Navita as she embarks on a loosely charted journey toward self-discovery, it's both intensely personal and inherently political. The Navigator evocatively captures the essence of the streets of New York's increasingly gentrified outer boroughs.
Hurray For The Riff Raff's The Navigator actually shares a number of commonalities with Beyoncé's Lemonade. It's a concept album in the most complete sense of the term. Its creator is a fierce independent woman with a confident creative vision. And most poignantly, it's a statement piece made by a member of a marginalized community that, while important for outsiders to hear, is best understood by the people within it.
Alynda Segarra, aka Hurray for the Riff Raff, returns to her Bronx roots in The Navigator. The album opens— on a track titled "Entrance" no less— with what sounds like the bustle of a subway train running through the tunnels of the NYC transit system. From these very few first seconds, it's obvious that The Navigator promises to be an undoubtedly more metropolitan album than any of Riff Raff's albums that preceded it.
One of the goals of Hurray for the Riff Raff's lead singer Alynda Segarra is remaking folk music for the politics and desires of the current age. She takes both the ancient history of folk, and its revivals in the 1930s and 1960s, and updates it for current ideas of gender and sexuality.
Their last album, Small Town Heroes, featured a haunting -- "The Body Electric" was a murder ballad told from the point of view of the murdered woman -- and thought there's nothing quite as literally supernatural here, ghosts continue to linger here on The Navigator: there's a song about falling in lust with both the city and the sex that happens there; a drinking song, and a break-up song, about ambivalence and desire.