Keep the Light Alive: Celebrating the Music of Lowen & Navarro

Various Artists

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Keep the Light Alive: Celebrating the Music of Lowen & Navarro Review

by William Ruhlmann

When Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro were forced to end their professional partnership on June 6, 2009, due to the unstoppable physical deterioration Lowen suffered as a victim of Lou Gehrig's Disease (aka ALS), they had been performing together for more than 20 years, had been writing together for more than a quarter of a century, and had been best friends for more than three decades. Over that period, their work evolved from the power pop of their early bands, through flirtations with mainstream pop, to an extended career as acoustic singer/songwriters. They had had one of those star-crossed recording careers in which it always seemed that record executives would tout them one day and leave the company the next. Meanwhile, the press, never forgetting that they got their start writing a hit for Pat Benatar, tended to dismiss them. Through it all, they persevered, building up a following city by city among fans of adult pop and what was sometimes called "nu-folk" or "new acoustic music," eventually (and inevitably) launching their own label and selling their CDs at gigs and on their website ( That brought respect and admiration, at least among people who had ever heard of them. Lowen's diagnosis in 2004 (that's right, amazingly he managed to keep playing for five years with a disease that sometimes kills its victims in five months) quickened the duo's efforts; they were prolific in their final period. They were also as good as, if not better than, ever, particularly as writers. That is apparent on this tribute album, which benefits ALS organizations, and which is oriented more toward their later songs. By the time of their last album, Learning to Fall, in 2008, their writing reflected Lowen's illness, of course, but even before then their personal and professional trials came out in their songs, notably on the leadoff track here, "Weight of the World," sung in a characteristic arrangement by Jackson Browne (whose brother Severin, a close associate of Lowen & Navarro's, sings harmony), a song from their 1998 album Scratch at the Door. No song comments directly on Lowen's condition, but by Learning to Fall there was an elegiac quality to their work, notably on Navarro's "I Don't Believe in Yesterday," feelingly rendered here by Bonnie Raitt's old bassist Freebo (who knew he had such a good voice?), and on the lovely "If I Was the Rain," one of three collaborations with lyricist Charles John Quarto, performed by Stonehoney, a band that has accompanied Navarro in "solo" appearances. But the album doesn't consist entirely of downers, by any means. What it does contain is a collection of well-written songs performed sympathetically by friends of Lowen & Navarro, several of whom, such as the Bangles (singing that Pat Benatar hit, "We Belong") and John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting, are famous. The duo's fans will enjoy the different takes on some of their favorites, while wondering why other favorites are missing. Anyone coming to the album without any previous knowledge of the songwriters may be amazed at how songwriters this good could labor in relative obscurity for so long. Meanwhile, they will have made a contribution to a good cause. Lowen & Navarro may have played their last show, but their songs could be only starting out in life.

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