The Navigator takes Hurray for the Riff Raff in an interesting new direction.ATO Records, 2017
8.4 / 10
If you previously thought of Hurray for the Riff Raff as just a rootsy rock band, The Navigator takes the project in an interesting new direction. Conceived as a concept album, it feels like a Broadway production. Bandleader Alynda Segarra assumes a new identity of Navita Milagros Negrón on her journey of self-discovery. The concept parallels Segarra’s own life. Of Puerto Rican descent, Segarra often felt exiled from her roots during her youth while growing up in the Bronx. Now in her 30s, Segarra embraces her Puerto Rican roots and gives its music a spotlight on The Navigator.
While Hurray for the Riff Raff’s past albums were decidedly folk, The Navigator doesn’t place boundaries on where its music goes. Collaborators on the album include guitarist Jordan Hyde, percussionists Juan-Carlos Chaurand, Gregory Rogove (Rodrigo Amarante), a trio of Bomba drummers, and Doo Wop singers from New Jersey. The album’s opening song, “Entrance”, pulls you into The Navigator’s story. Street sounds ring in the background before gorgeous Doo Wop reveals itself. The album’s major themes become more apparent on “Living In the City”. The song paints a picture of an overlooked group of people determined to fight back against a society that has ignored them. Segarra sings about apartment life in this city, “Fourteen floors of birthing/ And fourteen floors are dying,” over its ramshackle folk rock.
The album’s added percussionists shine bright on “Rican Beach”. The song addresses gentrification of the South Bronx. Segarra refuses to go gentle into the dark night, “I’ll keep fighting till the end,” she sings. Segarra’s charisma has never felt stronger than on The Navigator. Maybe it’s because Hurray for the Riff Raff’s music never sounded as grand as it does here. Its music is celebratory and passionate; it energizes and makes you sweat.
The album’s best song is the call to arms standout “Pa’lante”. The song’s title is Puerto Rican slang for “forward,” and here, it becomes a rallying battle cry. Starting with a sparse piano melody, the song builds with dramatic effect. Segarra’s spits the words, “Be something,” with anger as they were so frivolously told to her. Then, the song ends with a grand, rebellious statement. Segarra’s voice sounds as if it’s coming from the top of a skyscraper as she calls to the people below her. You can’t help but feel moved. It’s the most powerful moment on the album.
And really, that is saying something. Especially when The Navigator has several powerful moments. “Hungry Ghost” recalls Segarra’s early years of chasing her dream to be a musician. Her self-description as a hungry ghost brings to mind someone in poverty that no one notices. It inspires, even as it hits you in the gut. “Life To Save” is about getting your shit together, even after being dealt incredible hardship. Segarra sings, “My mind is full up on moonlight/ The morning opens like a Bible,” as she feels regret for her choices. “Finale” ends the album with a spirited Bomba performance that captures the excitement of a street performance. It’s a perfect bookend after “Entrance” begins the album in the streets. The same streets where Segarra’s dream was born. Now that dream is realized with tremendous accomplishment.