by Tommy Paulus
This world of ours is wonderful, but it’s also dreadful, and Alynda Segarra has more than a few choice words about this subject. Segarra is the main vocalist of the folk band Hurray for the Riff Raff, which recently released their eighth studio album LIFE ON EARTH.
Segarra shows us how folk can be just as mutable as any other genre. LIFE ON EARTH is a savory blend of American folk, with undernotes of soft punk rock all tied together with an emphasis on natural beauty. However, it’s not merely about environments and landscapes. They’re not describing these places, they’re feeling these places — the jagged gravel, the chorus of a mourning dove — and you will feel it too.
Segarra fell in love with the ideals of nature at a young age. At 17, they left their home in the Bronx and ended up landing in New Orleans to start Hurry for the Riff Raff after years of busking the corners of America. On their journey through the country, they hopped freight trains, trekked on gravel roads, and slept under the blanket of the night sky. All of this adventuring and roaming around led to a major appreciation for their environment. Every blade of grass, rolling hill, and sprawling tree is a reminder of Earth’s greatness to them.
The instrumentals are soft, yet punching; each horn toot and cymbal crash seems to have a chaotic order, taking after Mother Nature herself. They seem to hug each lyric, making sure there is no wiggle room. Upon my first listen, I could immediately tell you what each song was going to be about. Even if the lyrics were completely removed, the production would do a crystal clear job at portraying the tone of each song.
While the instrumentals are the heartbeat of this album, the lyrics are the lifeblood. LIFE ON EARTH is jam-packed full of playful details describing the world around us. In “RHODODENDRON,” they tell a tale of waking up reborn in a field of corn, with the moon shining a glossy maple glow. All of the beautiful things the earth has to offer are harvested into her sound. Her voice is reminiscent of signature Americana country-western tone, which oddly compliments her modern and passionate political messages.
Segarra and their band discuss the ugly parts of nature too, specifically human nature. Opening with the track “WOLVES,” Segarra gravely tells the listener an ominous message: “the wolves are here.” This is the introduction to an overarching theme of the immigrant experience and border detention. It’s your choice: follow them or get eaten by the wolves. So, Segarra invites us on a nomadic journey with her through the mountains and valleys of the album.
They are bringing heart and soul to the forefront of this album, something Segarra wishes she saw in more folk artists. Instead of the usual “Life is short, have fun” mantra, Segarra groans “Life on earth is long,” a simple yet impactful lyric coming from “a girl in a cage” on the titular track. The music of Hurray for the Riff Raff is reminiscent of campfire ballads, detailing the tough love the earth deals to everyone who walks it. They believe that, considering how personal and heartfelt folk music is, it needs to expand its boundaries and relate to broader issues as well as personal ones.
Throughout the album, Segarra incorporates the trials and tribulations of immigration into the United States in songs like “PRECIOUS CARGO.” A laid-back instrumental lets the lyrics drive this track. In a striking criticism of border patrol, the lyrics voice, “And I don’t know why you would lie on me / The man from the I.C.E.” The messaging is impactful in showing the profanity of the situation, while also showing the resilience of those mistreated at the hands of ICE.
Throughout this album, Segarra and their band Hurray for the Riff Raff use their signature folk-y stylings to create a refreshing take on the Americana genre. Segarra wants to show the world the ugly with the pretty, the thorn with every rose, and they do it beautifully.