It’s been seven years since Dan Navarro’s last studio album, and while those years haven’t been easy for him — his songwriting partner Eric Lowen died in 2012 — he emerged in March with a set of songs that capture every facet of our lives.
Navarro’s joined on the album by a large congregation of players, including Leland Sklar, Danny Kortchmar, Wendy Waldman, Janiva Magness, Grace Pettis, Steve Postell (who also produced the album), Freebo, and David Glaser, among others. Shed My Skin recalls the early albums of Jackson Browne, up through The Pretender (and Sklar and Kortchmar played with Browne in those days), that feature David Lindley.
“Straight to the Heart of Me” opens with a crisp lead guitar floating over cascading chords; the rhythm guitar mimics the singer’s easy vulnerability and openness while the lead guitar mimics the lover’s ambivalence about a relationship. The singer recognizes a “tender connection” between him and his lover, which she doesn’t see, but he embraces such uncertainty by laying open his heart: “Regret is too easy / But redemption is free / So I leave the door open / Straight to the heart of me.” The title track opens sparely with a few guitar strums and builds layer-by-layer to a full-throated anthem to re-creation and to the building of the new out of the ashes of the old. “So I take a piece of who I am / And stretch it thin / Every time I start to feel the walls / Closing in / I shed my skin.”
Magness joins Navarro on the Spanish-flavored “You Drove Me Crazy” (it’s this album’s “Linda Paloma”), a full-hearted embrace of a passion that gets under his skin and won’t leave him: “You drove me crazy / and now I’m going to stay that way.”
“Ghosts” opens with Kortchmar’s crystalline lead guitar and blossoms into a shuffling ballad that floats on Peter Adams’ organ as the singer acknowledges the ways that past relationships haunt us: “I’m haunted by the memory / Of mistakes and misery / Gotta leave them behind / But the ghosts are dancing in my mind.”
Shed My Skin is a hauntingly beautiful album that evokes poignant regret, elusive identity, ambivalent passion, and palpable longing. It also illustrates Navarro’s willingness to pour himself into a song and artfully reveal insights into the human condition.