Lowen & Navarro

Learning to Fall

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Since Eric Lowen was diagnosed with ALS during the recording of Lowen & Navarro's fifth new studio album, All the Time in the World, in 2004, it would have been reasonable to assume that the disc was the last one the duo would make. But if the advance of Lowen's disease is inexorable, its speed is not, and five years later Lowen & Navarro have played numerous concerts and managed further recordings, notably 2006's Hogging the Covers, which, as its title indicates, consists of their versions of songs written by others. Still, Learning to Fall inevitably will be their final effort together. Listeners sometimes thought they could discern hints of Lowen's circumstances on All the Time in the World, even though nearly all its songs were written prior to his diagnosis. Learning to Fall, on the other hand, necessarily has a reflective and even elegiac tone. That tone is not so unusual to Lowen & Navarro's work, however. As early as their fourth album, Scratch at the Door, they were concerned with life's struggles, and while they may be a bit more philosophical here, they are the same songwriters. Although they write together and separately (and with others), it seems appropriate to comment on those sentiments as a whole since they are consistent throughout the album. Indeed, Dan Navarro takes part in the rueful self-assessments that make up so many of the songs, particularly on "I Don't Believe in Yesterday," which he wrote by himself. Inevitably, however, it is Lowen whose expression carries the most weight, notably on the album's title track, with its chorus "I've had to run/I've had to crawl/Been rich as a king/Had nothing at all/Still raising hell/And tearing down walls/I know where I stand/I'm learning to fall." Lowen faces his fate with amazing equanimity here and elsewhere, even as he admits in "The Smile of a Worried Man" that he is "staring down the barrel of a loaded gun." Some comfort may be offered by the support system on display on the album. The duo's longtime keyboardist Phil Parlapiano has been promoted to album cover credit, and Lowen's diminishing capacity as a musician has been augmented by a raft of guest guitarists, Greg Leisz, Doug Pettibone, and Phil Hurley. Lowen's singing voice may have lost some of its elasticity, but it has gained in gritty conviction, and he is joined on "Learning to Fall" by "the ALS Choir," full of friends and relatives. Finally, however, the album is a tribute to a long-term personal and professional partnership between two singer/songwriters who may at times have seemed like an odd couple (especially when the blond, six-foot-two Swedish descendant Lowen stood on-stage beside the dark-haired, five-foot-eight Latino Navarro), but who worked effectively together and who bring their recording career to a close on a satisfying high note here.

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