Sunday, August 30, 2009

John Batdorf and Dan Navarro - House Concert Review - August 23, 2009

Looking back at some of the reviews I've written so far, I get the impression that I'm worrying a lot these days. I'm worried about being late for shows, worrying about which act should open up and which should close, worried about being too nice or being too mean; it seems like a lot of unnecessary worry. Well I've kept the tradition alive again this week! Going to see John Batdorf and Dan Navarro's CD release at the Bodie House Concert series at the Thousand Oaks Library was a given, being that I'm a huge Batdorf fan who has seen John a lot in last few years and NEVER tires of him and being quite curious on how Dan would handle the Lowen & Navarro legacy while continuing on his own. But I knew Dan was bringing a band and I wondered if John would be solo and how that would work dynamically. And another thought occurred to me: would I be able to find new stuff to write about just having reviewed John and James Lee Stanley some weeks ago. I'm certainly too new at this to start repeating myself. But the only repetitive thing here really was my worry.
So, with the audience just seating and about half full, John took the stage alone with his guitars. His first song was "Let Me Go", an all-time favorite from Batdorf and Rodney days, its a tour-de-force acoustic guitar work-out he wrote back in 1971 inspired by the playing of Steve Stills. It was always impressive with the twin guitars of the duo but as a solo piece it is an extremely difficult task that John attacked so masterfully that its a testament to his maturing instrumental skills. See the top picture above. If anything, and I've heard this song live many times now, he played it just a touch fast, which I took as a sign of adrenaline flowing and a special show to follow. At last I was right about something! John followed up with one of his darkest numbers, a quiet, haunting examination of addiction called " I Don't Always Win " which, like always, got the audience so quiet you could hear that proverbial pin drop. At this point, I peeked at the crowd behind me, and the once half-full room looked totally full, leaving me with one less worry.

John then introduced his songwriting partner, Michael McLean, who we had never seen before, even with all the times we've seen John in recent years. As Michael took a seat at the piano, I realized again my worries were for naught, John obviously knew what he was doing, and of course he brought his "band". The next couple of tunes from his great new album sounded nearly as full as the album production with depth of sound added by the piano. John played a stirring version of "I Go To Pieces" , one of the prettiest ballads on the new CD. If John was Crosby, Stills and Nash, all wrapped up in one artist (and I COULD make a REALLY strong argument to that effect), this one would be in his Graham Nash mode. And if he were all The Eagles in one package (you know what I'm thinking!) the next one would be his Don Henley mode, the country-tinged "Don't Tell Me Goodbye". Wow, and we were just getting started!
John then introduced the next artist, Dan Navarro and his band. For those of you unfamiliar (remembering I have a HUGE east coast readership!) Dan for the last couple of decades has been half of the acoustic duo Lowen and Navarro who have quite a following and a great reputation in SoCal and much of the rest of the country. Health issues have forced Eric Lowen to retire from performing but Dan said they still will write together. In addition to Dan's considerable songwriting talent he has one of the biggest and best voices you'll ever hear. And this night he was releasing his first solo CD done live at McCabe's in Santa Monica with the group Stonehoney (coming soon to Russ and Julie's, see you there or stay tuned!). Playing with him tonight was a band full of some of the best players around. Joining Dan on acoustic guitar was Steve Postell, on piano and on accordion was Phil Parlapiano and the percussionist was Dennis Edwards playing cajon. See bottom picture above.

Dan and band launched into their half of the first set with the up-tempo "Let Her Ride" which is on the live album and then a favorite for me "Baby Its Cold Outside" very ironic because SoCal was in the midst of heat wave, drought and wildfire season. And in "Learn How To Let Her Go" he sounded much like a West Coast Bruce Springsteen. Another highlight for me was the emotional and moving "Raining In My Eyes" (more irony) where Dan and band sounded kind of like Robbie Robertson and The Band but Dan has a better voice than either of those other guys and nothing sounded derivative at all.

At this point John rejoined the festivities adding harmony vocals and acoustic guitar, briefly becoming a substitute for Eric. The four songs that closed the set were amazing. I loved hearing these two voices that are such perfect foils for each other, with John taking the higher harmonies. They did "The Road Is Never Ending", "I Don't Believe In Yesterdays" and another highlight, Dan closed with "A Better Man" a charming song he wrote for his newborn son many years ago.

And here we were at intermission and I felt like we already had our money's worth of music and then some! At intermission we ate foods we're not supposed to and mingled with the many familiar and new faces there. It was somewhat of a house concert convention there that night. Along with our host Renee Bodie we chatted with Russ and Julie and Scott Duncan and I got a chance to meet a Facebook friend I had never met in the flesh, Jeanette Lundgren, who among much other stuff handles John's publicity through her Mother Hen Promotions. I was starting to feel part of the "in crowd"!

The second half of the show began with Dan taking the stage solo for a beautiful version of "Don't Want To Do That To You" and then the band rejoined him. Steve Postell did some tasty bottleneck work on the bluesy "Until The Well Runs Dry" with Dan using his best Cocker-esque growl. They finished their portion of the set with a couple of Lowen and Navarro staples "Straight To The Heart Of Me" and "Walking on a Wire".

John then retook the stage alone with his '55 Martin D18 for a rousing rendition of the Batdorf and Rodney classic "Home Again", another incredible solo acoustic performance that featured near-impossible guitar work. See the picture second from bottom above. John had mentioned in the past that he thought for years that this song was impossible for him to do live all by himself, yet he has come up with a killer arrangement that captures all the power of what may be his signature tune. John never gets enough credit as a guitarist mainly because his great songs and classic voice over-shadow this aspect of his talent, but if you heard this song live you'd be wowed for sure.
For the next tune, John again brought up his writing partner, Michael McLean, to sing backups and play piano on the up-lifting "See Us Shine" , a tune they wrote in response to the LA riots that highlights all the great, loving things people do, an idea seldom sung about. Michael then was replaced by Luke Halpin on stage, first on mandolin on the beautiful ballad "Me and You" and then switching to fiddle on "Ain't No Way", a scathing open letter of good riddance to the end of George W. 's reign, from the new album and one of the only political songs I can remember John writing. Luke was featured on this song on the album and he really cooked on this tune, enough so that it convinced us to see him the following weekend playing with his partner, Stephanie Bettman (review coming soon!).

The next tune "Love: All I Really Know About It" , saw Dan joining John and Luke on stage to do background vocals as he did on the new album. See center picture above. This is one of those songs I've had stuck in my head for weeks now, a really pretty losing-out-on-love song. On the next tune John got help from a family member. His son Matt, one of his twenty-something twin sons came up to sing backgrounds on "That Don't Seem Right To Me", reprising his appearance on the album. See picture second from top. This was another song where John sounded a lot like Don Henley at his best, but with something to say, which would be unusual for Don but never for John.

To close up the show, John called back Dan and his band to join him on his last few tunes. First was the achingly beautiful "Will I Love You Forever" , one of the most moving depictions of the ups and downs that we all experience in love, with John singing one of his most memorable melodies with exceptional lyrics from Michael McLean. Then came the opening track from the new album, "What D'Ya Got". In my last John Batdorf review I called this "an anthem to the down-sizing of the American Dream and the power of personal relationships to pull us through".
It is an INCREDIBLE song, catchy and bouncy but with scathing lyrics that still manage to be up-lifting and positive, I can't believe its not being played on every radio station in the country. It has such hit single potential, I'm convinced that if it was recorded by a "flavor-of-the-month" female country artist (think Carrie Underwood) it would be a huge hit. I am still hopeful John's version will receive the attention it deserves. This night's version was a rousing group workout. All that was left was for the group to encore on a spirited singalong on The Stones' " Ruby Tuesday" done "All Wood and Stones"-style, like on John's album with James Lee Stanley. That brought this amazing show to a close. All those concerns I had, had vanished and my new theme song will be "Don't Worry, Be Happy"!
One note I must add to this review. While I have recommended artist's Cd's before in some of my reviews, I usually tell my readers to check out the music and see if they like it. I rarely get all worked up about some one's CD. I was on the early sales list for John's new CD, "Old Man Dreaming"and I have been listening to it a lot over the last few months. It just grows and grows and grows on me, in a way very few CDs ever do. I have most of these songs bouncing around my brain on daily basis and I'm still finding new aspects to all of them. If any of you are EVER going to take my advice, this is one time to do so! BUY THIS ALBUM!!!!!! Share it with your friends and family! I would not only love to see John get the recognition he deserves and make some money on it, but I assure you, your own lives will become richer, too!
All that remains are the links. For John Batdorf:

and Dan Navarro:

and Bodie House Concerts: