ATO RECORDS 10th March 2017
We have a soft spot for Alynda Segarra aka Hurray For The Riff Raff. A commanding presence live, she has a quiet air of authority that marks her as a heritor of the mantle of punk poet Patti Smith. Not that the music is at all the same and this album isn’t even the same as Alynda’s others. There is more of a rock / eighties New Wave feel to the instrumentation and songs have big rising choruses with hooks.
She’ll still surprise you with the opening track – a gospelly, soully, folky piece that could have sprung from a sober Pogues moment. Throughout there is a sense of swing and movement threaded through the Americana/ rock arrangements. Living In The City exemplifies this, whilst Hungry Ghost is a low-key, yet powerful rock anthem. Her roots show in The Navigator, based on a Tango, with echoing steel guitar in the style of Marc Ribot. That guitar sound reappears on Rican Beach, a heartfelt mini-epic about the appropriation of culture and gentrification that touches on the infamous and ridiculous, yet threatening Mexican wall mooted by Trump, riding with bongo beats. Halfway There is a whispered slow ballad, quiet and sweet.
In theory this is a concept album, telling the story of the journey of a street kid to finding herself. Myself, I don’t catch the story and I don’t care; these are great songs with great delivery, sung and played with passion. The big anthem of the set is Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl – a message to herself and a hymn to being yourself. Sounds hackneyed but she works in some Latin rhythms and turns it into an anticipatory love song. The trio of percussionists and close harmony work add a new level to the work of Hurray For The Riff Raff and the result is a mature and moving album.
Settle combines strings, fifties style sweet melody and balladeering before the astonishing Pa’lante arrives. Pa’lante is the heart of the album, a song from the depths of despair yet not ground down, demanding of herself that she rise up and “be something” (pa’lante means ‘go for it’). The song passes through stages and becomes a defiantly incantatory spell, a mission statement and anthem. The set closes on the opening song to The Navigator but fused to the Fania Records sound of the seventies and the Nu-Yorica folkish Latin infusion, bursting out into a percussion breakdown. It caps a varied yet unified collection. Varied in style; unified in intention.
This is the work of an artist who has long been good and promising greatness. The greatness has arrived.