As many kids’ music fans know by now, Dan Zanes is considered the father of the modern independent kids' music movement. After his band The Del Fuegos broke up at the beginning of the 1990s, Zanes spent the next few years playing around Manhattan with Jerry Marotta and former Del Fuegos producer Mitchell Froom as The Dan Zanes Trio. After becoming a dad in the mid-'90s, Zanes found (as did many parents of his generation) there was a serious drought of quality kids' music available in record stores. So, when a cassette of Zanes and fellow NYC dad/musicians performing kids' music got lots of attention on the playgrounds of the West Village, a lightbulb went off in Zanes' head.
Zanes decided to record his own children's albums at home and release them under his umbrella corporation, Festival Five, beginning with 2000's Rocket Ship Beach. By enlisting friends, babysitters, and well-known musicians to play and sing along, Zanes kept the album professional, but loose and fun. Zanes followed up with Family Dance and Night Time, both from 2002, House Party in 2003, the Grammy Award-winning Catch That Train! in 2006, and Little Nut Tree in 2011.
The Music of Dan Zanes' 'Christmas in Concord'
Christmas in Concord kicks off with "Joy to the World," which was published by Englishman Isaac Watts in 1719, and given its melody as we know it by American Lowell Mason in 1839. Zanes gives the tune a rustic sound using group vocals, shakers, and his trademark tremelo guitar. Suzan-Lori Parks harmonizes with Zanes on the old spiritual "Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow," while the band contribute washboard percussion, mandolin, guitar, and stand up bass. "Deck the Halls," an ancient Welsh carol that dates back to the 16th century, is given a unique arangement by Zanes and friends, with group voclas, tree bells, brass, banjo, and finger snaps. The quiet, introspective "Counting the Days (Until Christmas)" was cowritten by Dan Zanes and Suzan-Lori Parks, describing the anticipation of a father coming home to his family.
Zanes uses a banjo to spice up a bouncy version of "Angels We Have Heard on High," a song translated from an old traditional French carol in 1862 by Englishman James Chadwick. "Silent Night" was composed by Austrians Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, and was first performed in 1818. On Christmas in Concord, Dan Zanes presents a quiet acoustic version, utilizing mandolin, guitar, and his lone vocals. The EP comes to a close with "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," originally a poem written by American Edmund Sears in 1849 whose words were accompanied by a melody written by fellow American Richard Storrs Willis in 1850. Dan Zanes gives the song a laid-back Americana feel, as his vocals are joined by stand up bass, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic guitar, and Zanes' tremeloed electric guitar.
Although Dan Zanes' Christmas in Concord is a nice little holiday EP, I would have expected something a bit more off the beaten road from such a trailblazing artist. This isn't to say that Christmas in Concord isn't an enjoyable Yuletide musical treat, it's just that I would have expected Zanes to use a richer, deeper musical palette to color these familiar tunes. Nonetheless, this brief collection will make a nifty additon to your collection of new Christmas music for kids.
Released November 13, 2012; Festival Five Records
- "Joy to the World"
- "Rise Up Shepherd and Follow"
- "Deck the Halls"
- "Counting the Days (Until Christmas)"
- "Angels We Have Heard on High"
- "Silent Night"
- "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"