Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Past Is Still Alive – Angry, anxious, vulnerable and stunningly good

Nonbinary singer-songwriter Alynda Segarra grapples with the reality of being an outsider in this collection of songs that ache with real heart but never surrender

The Past Is Still Alive
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Artist: Hurray for the Riff Raff
Label: Nonesuch

“The Past Is Still Alive is an album grappling with time, memory, love and loss, recorded in Durham, North Carolina, a month after losing my father.” Alynda Segarra, aka Hurray for the Riff Raff, who identifies as nonbinary, could have added that they are also grappling with the reality of being an outsider – “born with a baby boy’s soul” – othered by their sexual identity as they have journeyed across the United States since they left their Bronx home aged 17.

Segarra is now 36, and The Past Is Still Alive distils their experiences into a collection of songs that ache with real heart yet never once feel close to surrender or cliche. It is an angry, anxious, loving and daringly vulnerable album, a missive from a world we struggle to understand. And it is softly, stunningly good, the peak of their recording career to date.

Segarra’s early work was influenced strongly by roots music, particularly folk blues in the style of their adopted city of New Orleans. Of late they have explored their Puerto Rican heritage (The Navigator) and entertained environmental fears (Life on Earth) with mixed styles and mixed results.

The Past Is Still Alive returns to a more Americana soundscape. Brad Cook’s subtle production makes the most of Segarra’s songs and soulful voice. The 11 tracks include a poignant voice recording of their father; there are no fillers, but Buffalo’s joyful memory and the tender vows of The World Is Dangerous are twin peaks.