Essential New Music: Hurray For The Riff Raff’s “The Navigator”

On her previous four albums as Hurray For The Riff Raff, Alynda Segarra seemed to build on her experience as a busker in New Orleans, singing modern and traditional covers or penning Woody Guthrie-esque songs about small-town heroes. But Segarra, whose family roots are in Puerto Rico, grew up in the Bronx, and that heritage forms the basis of the loose narrative of The Navigator. Produced by Paul Butler, who’s worked similar vintage/modern alchemy with Michael Kiwanuka, The Navigator merges street-corner doo-wop, rootsy rock ’n’ roll and bluesy sing-alongs with stark acoustic ballads and songs colored with Caribbean rhythms. While a song like “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” fits the album’s coming of age/cultural identity narrative, it works just as well as an independent love song of resigned empowerment. There’s a bit of Michelle Shocked in Segarra’s urban folk manner and a bit of Tom Waits in her bent blues. On the varied and fascinating The Navigator, she sounds both hardened by experience and vivaciously eager for more.

—Steve Klinge