My journey home this afternoon is also a journey through The Navigator – not just the title of the fifth album for New Orleans based Hurray For The Riff Raff, but the semi-autobiographical character developed by HFTRR lead Alynda Segarra – a Bronx-born Puerto Rican whose musical influences are clearly from all her roots. She tells us that this album is a product of the traveling musician, getting closer to her roots the more she travels. Indeed, there is a romantic wanderlust to this record, but there is also a very bitter tribute to city life.
She starts us with ‘Entrance’ – an a cappella song of typical blues gospel. We’re starting this journey with our roots firmly in The American South. This southern vibe continues in ‘Living In The City,’ ‘Hungry Ghost’ and ‘Life To Save.’ Living In The City is a fun melody with quite disdainful lyrics about, you guessed it, Living In The City. Hungry Ghost gives us The Navigator’s thirst for adventure, in a soulful, sweet way.
Life To Save is the crowing triumph of this album for me; the heavy blues, foot-stomping anthem about getting on. Segarra is outspoken (like many) about her opinions on the current political climate, and this song is the anthem that will tell protesters to keep going. It’s rocking, awesome and I’m already singing along to it.
We mellow down a bit with ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl’ with a hint of latin rhythm towards the end. Then comes the title track: ‘The Navigator,’ a tango between an echoing guitar, latin rhythm and striking strings. She’s singing about “My People” – the journey is becoming more philosophical.
By ‘Halfway There’ – we’ve taken a break, some soulful vocals and guitar. If we were on a journey with The Navigator, this is a gentle rocking moment on a ship with nothing to do but to ride the waves. The sound will be welcomed by fans who loved political anthem, ‘The Body Electric.’
The Latin rhythms continue with ‘Rican Beach,’ a tribute to the Puerto Rican past. It rings of the 60s protest songs, and the lyrics are certainly not just about Puerto Rico: “Now all the politicians ,They just squawk their mouths, They say ‘We’ll build a wall to keep them out’” – not the most subtle of mentions there, but it makes perfect sense for Segarra to sing it in this song.
The crashing cymbals and weeping vocals of ‘Fourteen Floors,’ partly about Segarra living in a high-rise, but also about her father’s journey to the USA from Puerto Rico, as well as ‘Settle,’ with its sorrowful strings tell us we are now in the reflective part of The Navigator’s journey. The sound of Settle reminds me of a Bond theme with plucking strings and guitars and a melodic, minor key.
‘Pa’Lante’ is named after the Young Lords newspaper that showed the way forward, it reminds me of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life with it’s phrasing – starting with a slow piano tune about the political climate, leading into a honky-tonk tune, a break for the sampled voice of poet Pedro Pietri – taking us back to the steady piano, which leads us to a climatic, bilingual finish. This is the song that has Segarra’s voice at her best as she almost screams “Pa’Lante” proudly.
‘The Finale’ is the same tune as the Entrance, but we now are well and truly in Latin-America, with the acoustic guitar, maracas and drums. This concludes our journey with The Navigator.
That’s the concept of the album – it’s a tough one. Common listeners of Hurray For The Riff Raff know it’s difficult to describe their music easily – Segarra takes influence from so many genres. This is less ‘Blue Ridge Mountain,’ with a lot of ‘The Body Electric.’ If you loved ‘My Dearest Darkest Neighbour,’ the first half of this album will do you well.
The usual banjo and fiddle that fills Hurray For The Riff Raff has been replaced with Latin drums – is this a sign of a longer journey for Segarra? Are we seeing an evolution of HFTRR’s sound?
Either way, this album sucks you into the journey.
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