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Album Reviews

Hurray For The Riff Raff Contains Folk-Rock Multitudes

On their latest album ‘The Past Is Still Alive,’ Alynda Segarra integrates their many musical selves into a brilliant singer-songwriter record.

It’s been a decade of reinvention for Hurray for the Riff Raff, the recording moniker of singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra. After years of street-busking and self-releasing acoustic records, Segarra cemented their status as an old-timey roots standard-bearer on 2014 Small Town Heroes. But over the course of their past two albums–2017’s The Navigator and 2021’s Life On Earth–Segarra chipped away at that artistic identity by exploring other musical lineages (everything from alt-pop to punk to Nuyorican folk-poetry) while carving out a truer artistic self. Their new album, The Past Is Still Alive, represents a closing of the loop for Segarra, a connecting and reconciling of all their musical selves and histories. 

The album is the second collaboration between Segarra and producer Brad Cook, who brings the same earthy groundedness to Segarra’s music as he does to Waxahatchee records like St. Cloud. But if Life On Earth still felt intent on defining itself in part by what it was not, The Past is Still Alive achieves something even braver: Segarra has honed their craft into a cohesive, astonishingly realized singer-songwriter record.

The Past is Still Alive is the most song-forward record in Segarra’s body of work, a mix of folky ballads, surging anthems, and mellow-country rockers; there’s even a waltz-time duet with Conor Oberst and, elsewhere, lonesome pedal steel via Oberst’s Bright Eyes bandmate Mike Mogis. The unobstructive production is a perfect fit for a record that features the best batch of songs Segarra’s ever written: tales of grief and mourning (“Alibi”), youthful romance and misadventure (“Ogallala”), returning and rebirth (“Vetiver”).

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At the center of it all is “Snakeplant (The Past Is Still Alive),” a stunning epic that Segarra has described as their version of Bob Dylan’s “I Was Young When I Left Home” (Segarra quotes it in the song). Over four minutes, what begins as a series of impressionistic past memories transforms into a powerful anthem of perseverance and compassion in the age of opioid overdoses and capitalist violence: “Test your drugs/Remember Narcan,” they sing. “There’s a war on the people/What don’t you understand?” 

Segarra sings quite a bit about their vagabond train hopping days throughout the album. It’s just one bit of their past that, as the album title suggests, has enabled Segarra to make a record they’ve been writing, in one way or another, for the past fifteen years. As Segarra puts it on “Ogallala”: “I used to think I was born in the wrong generation/But now I know I made it right on time.”

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