Album Reviews

Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

(Nonesuch) UK release date: 18 February 2022

Alynda Segarra’s latest invokes a step change, confirming her to be an artist ready to embrace newfound opportunities

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Life On Earth Since first releasing albums under the Hurray For The Riff Raff name back in 2007, Alynda Segarra’s music has been characterised by a rustic, bluegrass-hued sound, wrapped up in the traditions and culture of Americana. Yet, Life On Earth, her first album on the Nonesuch label, represents a deviation of sorts as she strikes out to pursue new sounds and ideas with confidence that suggest this album could be one that opens up new audiences for the New Orleans based artist.

The press release speaks of the songs being centred around surviving and thriving in a world of turbulence and change and it’s certainly reflected in the music, both in terms of the stylistic changes but also in some of the lyrics. The difference in sound is apparent immediately on opening track Wolves. In possession of synth blankets and programmed beats, it has a scale and expanse which defines much of the album. “It’s not safe at home any more” laments Segarra, embellishing the above theme while also demonstrating that her voice has never sounded more powerful or incisive, cutting through layers to make an immediate impact. Later, lead single Jupiter’s Dance follows in a similar vein, standing even further apart from her older work, its personal messages carried with a striking, airy lightness.

There are several other moments that suggest this may be something of a breakthrough album for Segarra. Pierced Arrows has a distinct melodic assurance, the themes of evolution and disruption being addressed with vigour when she declares “this whole fucking world is changing”. Pointed At The Sun meanwhile is emblematic of the intrinsic joy found in much of the album, despite the occasional discomfort of some lyrics. On Rhododendron she delivers her lines with a pronounced coolness and litheness that is reminiscent of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea era PJ Harvey. Like her earlier work, comparisons to the likes of Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch present themselves here also.

Another point of difference comes in the second half of the album with spoken word contributions to Nightqueen and Precious Cargo. Both tracks have a certain muted sadness to them, with external voices entering on each to address global environmental concerns, immigration and inequality. These lyrical interventions add a new dimension and undoubtedly carry worthy activist messages but there are perhaps question marks over their success in the overall context of the album. The title track, with its stark tenderness and poignancy, is perhaps the most beautiful moment on the album, her voice cracking under the weight of emotion.

In swapping fiddles, banjo and slide guitar for synths, piano and dynamic guitars, Life On Earth invokes a true sense of step change, capturing Segarra moving into the spotlight with purpose and confirming herself to be an artist ready to embrace newfound opportunities.

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Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth