Hurray for the Riff Raff

The Navigator

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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. While the album may open with "Living in the City," a song that makes a conscious nod to her early influence Bob Dylan, Segarra expands her musical palette considerably, finding space for spectral strings, gospel choirs, barrelhouse piano, and percolating funk. All of these flourishes give The Navigator a lush, enveloping atmosphere, but they're not merely flair: They're an indication of how Segarra pulls from several different American traditions to create a vibrant, modern Americana. Certainly, this album feels richer than previous Hurray for the Riff Raff records, which all benefitted from the stripped-down aesthetic that often signifies authenticity in Americana, but this broadening of Segarra's scope hardly constitutes pandering. The Navigator is nothing if it isn't a bold risk, a record that attempts to carve out a new kind of Americana, one where the past informs the present instead of the present preserving the past -- and one where the political is personal, too.

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