Posts Tagged ‘Lowen & Navarro’

The Year Of Three States

August 5, 2011

Originally posted September 10, 2008

The year of 1990 was an odd one: I ended up living in three different states.

I spent the first three and a half months working for a chain of newspapers based in Osseo, a small town northwest of Minneapolis, around which suburbs had grown since World War II. I spent half of my time reporting government and school events for the newspaper in the suburb of Champlin, an area then entering a boom phase. The rest of the time, I did odd jobs and tasks for the parent company, from researching and buying a new fax machine to filling in for the chain’s sports reporter when he took a vacation. I had an apartment in Anoka, a city about eight miles away, and spent most of my free time reading and listening to music at home.

In mid-April, I packed all my things to move. The Bekins guys did double-takes when they saw the boxes of books and records on a Monday morning. (I’m not sure how many books I had at the time, maybe three hundred, but I was up to nearly seven hundred records when I left Anoka.) When they drove their moving van down the street, I packed the three cats into the car, waved at my landlady, and headed south to a small town in Kansas, where a lady friend was waiting for me.

How small a town was it? Well, I got there Tuesday. My lady friend had girls in school, and we went to a school event Tuesday evening. Wednesday and Thursday, I spent driving from town to town in the area, looking for a newspapering job. The van with my stuff arrived early Friday, and I spent the morning beginning to put things in place. So when I walked down the street to buy a can of beans for lunch, I’d been out in public in this little place for maybe three hours.

And as I stood at the cash register, the clerk looked at me sharply for a second and then relaxed. “Oh,” she said, “You must be Candi’s friend from Minnesota!” I stammered, nodded and grinned, then headed back to my apartment stunned.

As it turned out, things did not go well in that small town. I wrote for newspapers in two towns about twenty miles away, heard a lot of country music in the restaurants and cafes, learned I didn’t care for the dry prairie heat, and struggled to build something lasting before we both surrendered and I headed east to Columbia, Missouri.

There, I did some free-lance writing, taught journalism at a women’s college, finished a master’s degree and breathed a sigh of relief to be back in an environment where rock and pop were the dominant forms of music. (I was tired of twang and drawl, although I have to admit I like country more now than I did then.) In the spring of 1991, when tax-filing season came around, I had the interesting experience of preparing three state returns, for Minnesota, Kansas and Missouri. So 1990, to me, has always been the year of three states.

It’s also always been the year of Lowen & Navarro. I’m not sure when the duo’s album, Walking On A Wire, was released, but in memory, it seems to me that Cities 97 played either the title track or “We Belong” nearly every day during the first portion of the year as I made my morning drive from Anoka to Osseo. (“We Belong” had been covered to great effect, of course, by Pat Benatar, whose version went to No. 5 during the winter of 1984-85, and Richard and Linda Thompson had covered “Walking On A Wire” on their remarkable 1982 album, Shoot Out The Lights.)* And when I got to Columbia after my brief exile in cow and wheat country, one of the radio stations in that university town happened to number Lowen & Navarro’s versions of “Walking On A Wire” and “We Belong” among its favorite tracks.

For some reason, I didn’t go look for the LP – it was Lowen & Navarro’s debut recording – but instead just enjoyed the tunes whenever the radio gods sent them my way. Maybe that was just as well. I got the CD at a garage sale a few years back, and the rest of the CD doesn’t stand up to the quality of the two songs mentioned above.

Oh, it’s not an awful CD. Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro – assisted with the writing in various combinations by Rick Boston, Jim Scott, Rik May, Gerry Polci and Preston Sturges – know their way around a melody. But the words sometimes fail them. Many of the lyrics on Walking On A Wire are tired, predictable and trite, with the still remarkable exceptions of the two songs that drew me to the album to begin with. Of those two, Lowen & Navarro wrote “We Belong,” and they were joined in the writing of “Walking On A Wire” by Boston.

Beyond the writing, the CD sounds good. Lowen & Navarro and their various friends – including Dan Navarro’s brother Dave, who adds some guitar – came out of the studio with an album that has an appealing acoustic pop-folk sound to it. To me, it’s the kind of CD I load into the player with the rest of the stuff I’ve got and let tracks come up at random.

And every time I hear either “We Belong” or the title track, there I am, either driving toward Kansas or getting the hell out of there, back to where I belong.

Musicians on the CD were:

Eric Lowen, guitar and vocals; Dan Navarro, guitar, vocals and percussion; Simeon Pillich, acoustic and electric bass; Tim Timmermans, drums and percussion; Richard Dodd, cello; Jim Scott, omnichord and percussion; David Navarro, guitars on “What I Make Myself Believe” and “Someone Like You”; Didi Navarro Cortez, flute on “Seven Bridges”; Preston Sturges, dobro on “Hammerhead Shark”; and Richard Hardy, tin whistle on “What I Make Myself Believe.”

Somewhere Far Away
Walking On A Wire
Oh Mary
The Spell You’re Under
Seven Bridges
What I Make Myself Believe
Someone Like You
We Belong
C’est La Vie
She Said No
Hammerhead Shark

Lowen & Navarro – Walking On A Wire [1990]

*That statement about the Thompsons is, of course, in error. Their “Walking On A Wire” is an entirely different song. Note added August 5, 2011.

From A Muscle To The Junkyard

June 12, 2011

Originally posted February 22, 2008

As some cliché writer once said, there’s a first time for everything. I’m still not sold on the “everything” in that, but I do seem to have cataloged a “first time” that I don’t believe I’ve ever thought about.

I’ve been fighting a cold for a couple of days, and last evening, while sneezing, I pulled a muscle in my ribcage. I never knew one could do that. But I did, and one of the results is that I’m not very comfortable writing. So I’m not going to do much of that today, beyond a short introduction and some comments about some of the songs that pop up.

Several of the online outlets where I buy CDs have had sales and promotions lately, so there is an appreciable pile of CDs waiting to be logged into our collection here. Most of them are albums from the 1960s and 1970s, as I continue to fill gaps. In an effort to fill one such empty space, I finally picked up last week Wanted, the first album by the country-rock group Mason Proffit. So we’ll start today’s walk through the junkyard with “Two Hangmen,” the Vietnam-era protest song dressed up as a Western morality play. In the year it came out, I used to hear it through whispers of static on KAAY in Little Rock.

A Walk Through the Junkyard
“Two Hangmen” by Mason Proffit from Wanted, 1969

“Kid Charlemagne” by Steely Dan from The Royal Scam, 1976

“Wolves In The Kitchen” by John Stewart from Lonesome Picker Rides Again, 1971

“Hurt So Bad” by El Chicano from Viva Tirado, 1970

“Everything Is Gonna Be OK” by Dino Valente from Dino Valente, 1968

“Stranger Than Dreams” by Lowen & Navarro from Scratch at the Door, 1998

“Keeping the Faith” by Billy Joel from An Innocent Man, 1983

“I Just Want To Make Love To You” by Muddy Waters, Chess single 1571, 1954

“Poems, Prayers & Promises” by John Denver, RCA single 0445, 1971

“So Easy” by Aztec Two-Step from Aztec Two-Step, 1972

“Love at the Five & Dime” by Nanci Griffith from Last of the True Believers, 1986

“That Girl Could Sing” by Jackson Browne from Hold Out, 1980

“One Fine Day” by Carole King, Capitol single 4864, 1980

“Out In The Country” by Three Dog Night from It Ain’t Easy, 1970

“Moses” by the Navarros, GNP Crescendo single 351, 1965

A few notes:

I’ve learned from conversations and correspondence with radio folks that “Two Hangmen” is one of those songs that brings a buzz when it is aired: The phones light up as listeners have questions, comments and just plain gratitude for being able to hear the song one more time.

Steely Dan’s sound was unique and so consistent from album to album that sometimes the group’s body of work can blend into a whole. While the Dan never released a truly bad album, there were a couple that weren’t as good, and I think The Royal Scam was one of those.

I’m not sure if Lowen & Navarro were as popular elsewhere in the 1990s as they seemed to be in Minnesota. Every two or three months, it seemed, the duo would stop by Cities 97 for a live-in-studio performance. Their acoustic folk-pop was well-done, and I enjoy the couple of CDs I have, but there never seemed to be much change or growth: the songs on 1998’s Scratch at the Door could easily have fit into Walking On A Wire, the duo’s 1991 debut CD.

I have seven LPs and three CDs of Billy Joel’s work in my collection. I’m not sure I need that much. That said, An Innocent Man is a good album, and if “Keeping the Faith” isn’t the best track on the record – I think that title goes to “Uptown Girl” – it’s nevertheless a good one. Maybe someday I’ll write a post examining why I’m not all that fond of Joel and his work, and maybe by the time I’m finished with that post, I’ll understand the ambivalence he brings out in me.

Aztec Two-Step was a folk-rock duo that released four albums during the 1970s and a few more sporadically since then, including 2004’s Days of Horses. Their self-titled debut in 1972 created some buzz, but by the time the duo recorded 1975’s Second Step, folk-rock was falling out of favor. The first album is the best, though all of their work is pleasant.

I’ve noticed that whenever I post a Nanci Griffith song among either a Baker’s Dozen or a Junkyard, it almost always has fewer hits than the other tracks posted that day. Do yourself a favor: Listen to “Love at the Five & Dime.” I think that if I were to make a list of the one hundred best songs in my mp3 collection – which now numbers around 23,600 – “Love at the Five & Dime” would be one of them. I know that Nanci Griffith is not as well known as other artists whose recordings are posted here. I know that her delivery can be quirky. But the woman can write a song, and this one is most likely her best, from where I listen.

The Carole King track was the single pulled from Pearls: Songs of Goffin and King, a 1980 record for which King recorded some of the songs she and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin crafted during the Brill Building days in the early 1960s. I’d call the album a must-have.

The Navarros’ “Moses” is not quite a novelty record, but it comes close. I almost skipped over it when it popped up at the tail end this morning, but then I decided it’s a good day for a little bit of a chuckle.