was originally published in the Woodstock Times, May 2000.
Lowen & Navarro In The Hudson Valley Area
Story by Gary Alexander
Photos by Ray G. Ring IV
it was a squeeze venue on their tour- Woodstock sandwiched between
the South Main Cafe in Blacksburg, Virginia and The Bottom Line in New
York- and it was a tuesday night, but even so the crowd at Tinker Street
Cafe, although suitably impressed, was disconcertingly sparse for an act
the caliber of Lowen and Navarro. Why was that? The young lady next to
me, having traveled a hundred miles to record their set on her mini-disk
system wanted to know.
Let's start with duos. Many acts are
duo-based but they supplement themselves with a rhythm section and call
themselves a band. I could list a page of duos here most of you will not
have heard of and some that are familiar...Dillard & Clark, Hall & Oates,
Richard & Mimi Farina, Ian & Silvia, Sonny & Cher, Levitt & McClure and so
many others with '&' as a middle name.
Simon and Garfunkel, of course, the most popular duo act of relatively
recent recall, was an unbalanced match that hinged most pertinently upon
Paul Simon's poignant lyricism and acute sensitivity to the percussional
environment of a song. But they came in before corporate mass
marketeering rains washed away the folktrails and when Lowen and Navarro
entered the scene, they did so upon the mucky floodplains between Country
Lane and Rock Boulevard. The enclosure to their irrepressible 1993 Broken
Moon album on the Parachute/Mercury label included an extra mail-in leaf
desperate to identify the audience. With a confused, slightly
embarrassed, almost apologetic tone, it starts;
"I'm an adult now- and I still love music! If you answer yes to the above
statement- let's talk. Parachute is a label geared to the progressive
listener who may have tuned out to most current popular music." Limbo.
Then there's the age factor- these guys may not look it but they're in
40's; "We've always lied because people don't like that," admits Eric
a tall, laidback Nick Nolte kinda lug with a veiled but astute intensity.
"They don't like to hear that we're 'old guys', I don't know why. It's a
young person's market I guess and we certainly meet a lot of (industry)
resistance from that."
How often do you get record club come-ons in the mail? They always ask you
to check a category, right? Here's your choices- courtesy of the Columbia
mega-group- HARD ROCK (Eric Clapton, Third Eye Blind); SOFT ROCK (Mariah
Carey, Elton John); ALTERNATIVE (Beck, Tori Amos); HARD MUSIC (Ozzy
Osbourne, Kiss); RAP/HIP HOP (Will Smith, Puff Daddy); COUNTRY (Garth
Brooks, Trisha Yearwood); CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN (Amy Grant, Michael W.
Smith); DANCE/POP (Savage Garden, Backstreet Boys); GOSPEL (God's
Shirley Caesar); R&B (Brian McKnight, Erykah Badu); LIGHT SOUNDS (Barbara
Streisand, Enya); EASY LISTENING (Ray Conniff, Frank Sinatra); CLASSICAL
(Placido Domingo, Yo-Yo Ma); JAZZ (Kenny G, Miles Davis); LATIN (Rick
Martin, Ana Gabriel, Victor Manuelle). That's it, folks. Study that list.
Are you covered? Acoustic singer-songwriter isn't even an option on a
mass-market scale. It's enough to cause Lowen & Navarro fans some hopeless
Simply the best duet on the national pop scene today, Lowen and Navarro do
things with harmonies not even approached by other performers. That
and sophistication is what locked them as a pair a decade ago when they
working together as waiters in Los Angeles.
"I couldn't stand him," comments Dan Navarro, joining the table late after
chat with the late Richard Manuel's ex, an old friend. Shaggy, a trifle
pudgy and remarkably articulate, Navarro seems the very antithesis of his
"No, we didn't get along that well," shrugs Lowen.
What broke the ice? "We sang together," they said together. Navarro picked
it up and detailed a bit of how he had accumulated his vocal expertise
years of working with and around other voices when he wasn't playing solo
gigs. "I was accustomed to supplying something to improve the sound of
anyone I sang with, countering how they deal with the vagaries of their
approaches and this was the first guy I ever met who could not only keep
with me but surpass me. So, I would try to outdo him and, from the first
time we ever sang together, it was literally 'look and go, man! How'd you
ever think of that?'"
L.A.-born Navarro grew up near a bordertown featured on a flipside by The
Diamonds way back- Calexico, California. He was already songwriter when
pair first met.
"Dan, definitely, is a very facile lyricist. He can 'come up' with a
observes Lowen, a Saratoga Springs native who grew up in Ridgefield Park,
New Jersey before heading west with singer-songwriter (and one-time
Woodstocker) Bert Sommer. "With me it's when inspiration strikes and, a
of times, he's the arbiter and polisher of that."
The flavorful dynamics of their harmonies, strongly in evidence on their
fifth and newest album Scratch At the Door (Intersound Records) inherently
avoid the common prettified pitfalls of such endeavor by staying tough,
vital and elastic while pulling, counterpointing, weaving or reinforcing
intricate interplay of tonalities. But it's the songwriting, the music
itself, that makes that vibrant viability almost inevitable. Their Tinker
Street set was drawn mostly from the new material and backed solidly by
bassist Robbie Harrington (who's featured on the album) and a tasteful
drummer whose name I lost. Sorry.
Known largely as authors of exquisite, damn near flowery, songs of romance
covered by acts from Dave Edmunds to Pat Benatar, The Bangles to The Four
Tops and The Temptations, the tunes they offer on their self-produced
Scratch At the Door are grittier takes on life both musically and
Stepping away from dewy but artful love themes, they take provocative,
biting jabs at eye-avoidance areas in an age of delusion and turmoil. Tube
voices tell you everything's cool and that's what your glow-eyed neighbors
want to hear but this pair has their ear to a less diluted wind. The
slanting tone of the songs addresses effect more explicitly than cause
a side-order of honest apprehension and dawning disillusionment and
reflective of the shifting times. Their individual voices ring out more
prominently in these collaborations, identifying more clearly the
"I don't need no spin doctor/To tell me how to behave/Don't need no
shock/To save me from being saved" they sing on "My Own Way of Doing
as if they mean it. And they do. The sincerity is part of their
"(Our) early bands, before we started Lowen & Navarro in '88, would try to
be something and it didn't ring true," said Navarro. "We started just
figuring we're going to tell our truths and not worry about whether it's
soppy or morbid or cheery or anything. Just do it- talking about ourselves
or people around us. That's when things started working for us...We make
sure we're telling the truth, whatever the truth is. We don't sit there
say 'okay, we need a happy song' or whatever. The words come out of an
honest place." And from a very similar perspective, to judge by the new
co-writes; a double perspective that changed in tune with each other
You'll hear some Band-like chords on "When the Lights Go Down" and "Long
Way" just screams for a Rick Danko cover but musical comparisons stop
of being striking after that even if their usual producer, Jim Scott- who
mixed this batch, did produce Robbie Robertson's first solo effort. The
currents here are darker and socially deeper than past albums and Scott
suggested that, if asked why, they simply say they've had a tough year.
"Around when Pendulum came out (in 1995) Dan's mother died. Dan met a
got married. I was already married but I had twins. Dan had a baby. I got
divorced," recited Lowen. Getting dropped by Mercury was an unexpected
"There's been a lot of hardship and change in our lives recently," added
Navarro. "Except, to be honest. I'm real, real happy. I've got a lot of
wonderful things in my personal life, so where all of these things about
alienation, fear of middle age and all came from I have no idea. Except it
came from a real place."
"Somebody came to our show the other night and said 'I brought the
Lowen chipped in.
But no one needed any at the Tinker Street show. The performance had a
lively, stirring beauty of fresh songs (seven of them written at studio
showtime) by a top-notch duo who never danced it so close to the edge. The
place should have been packed.
is an independent journalist and scholar whose focus of
interests range through a variety of disciplines. Under various names,
he has written (and ghost written) upon history and current event;
science and technology, as well as music and the arts in books and for
national periodicals. While particularly attentive to the subtle and
complex impact upon cultural imagination and contemporary structures of
presumption which activity in the above mentioned topics tend to have,
Alexander treats his topics with a slightly more than occasional resort
Posted on November 18, 2004