Tuesday, December 24, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1328: Hurray for the Riff Raff

Since I don’t expect I’ll be writing a review tomorrow, let me wish you all an early Merry Christmas! I’m looking forward to a nice relaxing holiday after what has been a long, and at times stressful, 2019.

I’m also looking forward to ending my self-imposed exile from the record store. I try not to buy any new music immediately before Christmas so I can treat myself after, but it’s been two weeks of pure hell.

Disc 1328 is… The Navigator
Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? Our heroine chills out, French Existentialist style. Whenever I look at this picture I always think she’s wearing a beret, but it is just an outline of her head. It just looks like an outfit that should include a beret.

I imagine that the morning after this picture was taken Segarra road that bike down to the local café where she sat all morning writing poetry and watching pigeons chase each other about the plaza.

How I Came to Know It: I told that story back at Disc 1244, but the short version is my friend Randall brought one of the songs on this record (“Pa’lante”) to a music listening night. It was great, but I promptly forgot about it until Ethan Hawke pulled a copy of the record out of his bag on Amoeba Records’ Youtube show, “What’s In My Bag?” Together, Randall and Ethan convinced me to give Hurray for the Riff Raff a proper investigation.

How It Stacks Up:  I have two Hurray for the Riff Raff records and they are both amazing. The other one (“Small Town Heroes”) is 5-star perfection and so narrowly beats out “The Navigator” for first place.

Ratings: 4 stars

“The Navigator” is a record where Hope and Struggle agree to shake hands and put aside their differences to make some great art. Those two have done it plenty of times before of course, but in the hands of gifted singer-songwriter Alynda Mariposa Segarra (aka Hurray for the Riff Raff) they do a better job of it than usual.

For this record, Segarra leaves the country charm of 2014’s “Small Town Heroes” mostly behind her, embracing a more urban, pop-oriented sound, accented with a healthy dollop of Latin rhythms. The new sound is the right fit for her subject matter, which includes the swirling chaos of bustling city life, and the widening gyre that storms inside the human heart trying to find its way through it.

Living in the City” is an anthem for anyone who has ever lived in a city, but it had a special resonance for me, coming as I do from somewhere small and sleepy. Segarra’s love song to urban life captures the combination of community and isolation that comes from living shoulder to shoulder with a lot of other people who you don’t know all that well. Segarra finds a path of brassy bravado that walks the line between these two worlds, and ultimately bridges them:

“I got her a cane
and Big Danny is wasted
He said I'm the sweetest thing
that he's never tasted
Mariposa's singing love songs
All in her dark apartment
Fourteen floors a'birthin
And fourteen floors a'dying

Not sure who the cane is for, but I imagine it is some neighbour in need – maybe Mariposa when she’s not singing those love songs and needs to negotiate her way downstairs to pick up the mail.

As for Big Danny, I can see him crystal clear in my mind’s eye, an older dude making comments that border on inappropriate, but Segarra’s delivery makes it clear she takes no offence. It is fourteen floors of teeming humanity. It’s city life rich and varied; a little bit shared and a little bit distant, just the way we urbanites like it.

On “Hungry Ghost” you get the inner exploration of that hurricane (n.b. – I always think that first line of “Living in the City” is “hurricane” rather than “her a cane” which seems possible, given Segarra's often livin' in the city of New Orleans. Frankly I’m still not sure, and the internet was entirely unhelpful. But I digress...

Anyway, “Hungry Ghost” is the inner life amidst all that concrete:

“I've been a lonely girl…
But I'm ready for the world…
I've been a heart for hire…
And my love's a funeral pyre…”

Segarra’s vocals are vulnerable here, but she’s certain of purpose. She looks like she’s about five feet tall and 90 pounds but you get the impression you’d be safe walking the dark streets of either the Bronx or Bourbon Street with her at your side.

The album all comes together on “Pa’lante” which is Spanish for “forward!,” (if Google Translate is to be believed anyway). “Pa’lante” is two songs in one, the first half expressing the sentiment of just getting by, and the second translating that into a call to action. City life can wear you down, and an honourable life can be elusive, and hazy to define even when you find it. To which Segarra says, unequivocally, “go forward!” Stop worrying; we’ll get there.

While we’re getting there, it is nice to have a record as sublime as “the Navigator” to serve as our soundtrack. The city might have a heart of concrete, but what makes it beat are the hopes and dreams of the people that inhabit it.

Best tracks: Living in the City, Hungry Ghost, Nothings Gonna Change that Girl, Rican Beach, Pa’lante

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