Hurray For The Riff Raff - The Navigator
Back in 2014 Hurray For The Riff Raff made a significant shift in their position in the musical landscape. Previously they’d been a well respected Americana act with an interesting back story but pretty niche interest. Small Town Heroes changed that for the band somewhat with high scores from many a publication, including our good selves. Whilst most bands would find following something that game changing a challenge HFTRR went off only to return with, of all things, a concept album.
Before we get into that though let's address the fact that Hurray For The Riff Raff are less a full band and more just Alynda Segarra leading different sets of musicians depending on the sound and feeling she needs. The Navigator is very personal and inspired by Segarra's own journey back into her roots to find herself. If that all sounds a little pretentious try adding the fact that the concept of the album is that it follows the more literal journey of Navita (the central character) through a burning city. Any lack of familiarity with the band might lead to that putting people off. It really shouldn't.
Why? Well try the fact that we're not in Kansas anymore. Segarra has moved the musical house very far away from her initial sound, deep in Americana land. Here she's supported variously by percussionist, Bomba drummers, and Doo Wop singers. All add to the depth and variety of the music. But it's the theme and the lyrics that are the most fascinating. In a time where many people, many Americans, are unsettled, Segarra has delivered somewhat of a protest album, though that does it a disservice, it's much more complex than that.
The songs cover a swathe of things including ethnic displacement (the driving, rhythmic 'Rican Beach') and the discovery of ones self and self belief (the lilting, string laden 'Nothing's Gonna Change that Girl'). The styles vary wildly from the lightweight Americana of the wonderful 'Living In The City' through to the dark, sound effect heavy piano piece 'Fourteen Floors', it's astounding that is all hangs together on the strength of Segarra's vision and voice.
And where Small Town Heroes had its calling card at its centre, in 'The Body Electric', The Navigator saves it to the end. 'Pa'lante' is one of the most devastating and effective songs that 2017 will deliver, the title itself evoking political disturbance. Over its near six minutes moving from simple piano and voice combo, repeating the mantra "... be something ... do something ...feel something" before turning a little Beatles-y, segueing into spoken word speech before the powerful and passionate finale. "To all who came before we say Pa'lante / To my mother and my father I say Pa'lante". It really does leave you with a hope that the world can move onward, forward, to something better.