proF Music Round Up: 5 Great New Albums by Women

Sarrah Danziger, Shorefire Media

Photo: Alynda Segarra of Hurry for the Riff Raff. Photo credit: Sarrah Danziger, Shorefire Media

Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator (ATO)

Alynda Segarra, the lead singer and songwriter of Hurray for the Riff Raff, grew up in the Bronx, but spent her teenage years in downtown Manhattan, immersing herself in the city’s punk and folk scenes. On her band’s sixth album, The Navigator, Segarra melds those influences (with the most dominant sound being ’70s-style folk) with reflection on her younger years, growing up Puerto Rican-American in the tough New York City streets. The Navigator is a concept album, inspired by both Segarra’s childhood and classics of the genre, like David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It follows a teenage girl named Navi – a fictionalized version of the teenaged Segarra – and begins autobiographically, but then takes a turn. As Segarra tells Bust magazine, Navi “gets put under this spell, where she wakes up forty years later, and the city has been rapidly gentrified. It’s this dystopian future where everything’s changed so much.” In New York’s current climate of gentrification and economic disparity, it’s not such a far-fetched story. And it’s also a gorgeous, timeless-sounding record. (For more Hurray for the Riff Raff, check out their full performance at this year’s SXSW.)

Valerie June, The Order of Time (Concord)

Valerie June is one of my favorite discoveries from 2017 so far (some might say I’m late to the game). The 35-year-old hails from Humboldt, Tennessee, where she grew up around music – her father was a concert promoter who worked mainly in gospel music, but occasionally booked acts like Prince and K-Ci & Jojo. June’s gospel roots are readily apparent on The Order of Time, her fourth full-length record. Despite two records in 2006 and 2008 (June has called them “home recordings”), her big break didn’t come until 2009, when she was featured in $5 Cover, an MTV webseries about Memphis musicians. From there, she connected with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, who would produce her next two records and help introduce her to a wider audience. June’s latest effort is characteristically eclectic: it’s a mixture of Americana/Roots music (June plays the banjo and the lap steel, in addition to guitar), blues, soul, and singer-songwriter-style ballads. But the most captivating element is June’s distinctive, lightly accented voice, which may remind listeners of Erykah Badu or Joanna Newsom. With songs like the rainy-day balled “Astral Plane” and the blues stomper “Shakedown,” The Order of Time is a rich, soulful record that you won’t want to miss. (For more Valerie June, check out her excellent Tiny Desk Concert for NPR.)

Samantha Crain, You Had Me at Goodbye (Ramseur)

Oklahoma-based singer-songwriter Samantha Crain may be new to many listeners, but she’s been at this awhile. Crain began writing songs while still attending high school in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and has released five albums since 2009, working with well-known indie rock producer John Vanderslice on her last three. But You Had Me at Goodbye is a milestone: while her recent records have featured stripped-down, somber ballads, the songs on this latest effort have a fuller indie-pop sound, with strings and synths added alongside guitar and piano. Crain’s dusky voice is as affecting as ever, her songwriting sharp and witty. The pop-y “Antiseptic Greeting” is a standout here, as is “Red Sky, Blue Mountain,” a folk song written in the Choctaw language, a nod to Crain’s heritage.

The Courtneys, II (Flying Nun)

Summer’s coming up, and I’m always looking for that perfect, breezy, shimmering pop album to accompany the long, hot days. This year, I’m thankful I’ve found The Courtneys. Surprisingly, the band, comprised of singer/drummer Jen Twynne Payne, bassist/singer Sydney Koke, and guitarist Courtney Gavin, hails from New Zealand, which doesn’t exactly conjure images of sun and sand. The simply titled II is the follow-up to the band’s 2013 debut, and here the band settles comfortably into their 1980’s twee pop-inspired sound, singing about lust, longing – and even, on “Mars Attacks,” being abducted by aliens. It’s an upbeat, frothy record that’s worthy of heavy rotation this summer, no matter which hemisphere you find yourself in. (For more of The Courtneys, check out their 2015 performance on KEXP.)

Boss Hog, Brood X (Bronze Rat)

The New York City-based band Boss Hog is back with their first record since 2001’s Girl Positive Plus, but it’s like no time at all has passed – they still make music to conjure up your inner, defiant goth. The band, led by Cristina Martinez and her husband Jon Spencer (of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), maintains the same raw, unapologetic energy that characterized its early-‘90s heyday. Brood X will appeal to fans of scuzzy indie-punk and spooky rockabilly (think the Cramps), but it’s Martinez’s charismatic, badass-feminist persona that makes it stand out from the pack. After all, this is a woman who, as rumor has it, performed her band’s first-ever show completely in the nude. Highlights include the galvanizing “Elevator” and the sinister “Billy.” (For more Boss Hog, check out their performance on KEXP.)