1:40pm

Tue September 27, 2011
Music Reviews

Dan Zanes Plants A 'Little Nut Tree'

When Dan Zanes became a father 16 years ago, he took seriously the decision of which song to play to his newborn daughter first. He chose the 1968 Jamaican hit "Little Nut Tree." Now, after more than a decade of recording music for families, the godfather of the kids' music renaissance has released a new album called Little Nut Tree on his own label.

Zanes is known for recruiting guest artists from far and wide, and featuring them in individual songs on his albums. After 2006's Grammy-winning Catch That Train, Zanes took a few musical detours, releasing a Spanish-language album, a collection of spiritual and gospel music, and a Broadway-themed album. While there were good individual songs on those records, none had the same melting-pot mixture of his earlier work.

On the new album, Zanes brings back that big grab-bag, moving from Jamaican rock-steady to children's folk songs, from Middle Eastern sounds to indie rock. But it's his belief in the power of singing that has always been one of Zanes' most appealing attributes, with kids naturally responding. His positive attitude isn't cloying, so it attracts a wider age demographic.

After a summer of tumultuous economics and weather, the idea of hosting a dance party in your basement might sound like wishful thinking. But songs like Zanes' "In the Basement" not only inspire kids, but also get adult heads bobbing. Even if your party's guest list isn't that impressive, you can still push the tables and chairs out of the way and just dance.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHELE NORRIS, host: Musician Dan Zanes is a giant among toddlers. Over the last decade, Zanes has soared in popularity among the younger set and their parents, too, releasing more than half a dozen kids' albums and winning a Grammy in 2007.

Zanes has a new album out today and Stefan Shepherd has our review.

STEFAN SHEPHERD: When Dan Zanes became a father, he thought hard about which song to play first to his newborn daughter. He chose the 1968 Jamaican hit, "Little Nut Tree."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE NUT TREE")

SHEPHERD: Now, his daughter is 16 and after more than a decade of recording music for families, Zanes has a new album called "Little Nut Tree."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE NUT TREE")

DAN ZANES: (Singing) I have a little nut tree. Nothing would it bear for me, but a silver nutmeg and a golden pear alone.

SHEPHERD: He's known for recruiting guest artists from far and wide and for this version of the title track, Zanes enlists the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE NUT TREE")

ZANES: (Singing) She was to be my (unintelligible), so that's how it will be.

SHEPHERD: After his Grammy-winning 2006 album "Catch that Train," Zanes took a few musical detours, producing a Spanish language album, a collection of spiritual and gospel music and a Broadway-themed album.

While there were good songs on those records, none of them had the eclectic melting pot mixture of his earlier work.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T NEED SUNNY SKIES")

SHEPHERD: On the new album, though, Zanes brings back that big grab bag, moving from Jamaican rock-steady to children's folk songs and from Middle Eastern sounds to indie rock with Andrew Bird.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T NEED SUNNY SKIES")

ZANES: (Singing) Hey there, duchess, don't you know a little rain is going to come and go, but I don't need sunny skies to sing about you. I'm like the birds up in the trees with an endless store of melodies and I don't need sunny skies to sing about you.

SHEPHERD: It's that belief in the power of singing that has always been one of Zane's most appealing attributes with kids naturally responding. His positive attitude is also popular with the younger set.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE BASEMENT")

SHEPHERD: But it's not cloyingly positive and so attracts a wider age demographic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE BASEMENT")

ZANES: (Singing) Oh, where can you party all night long? In the basement. Down in the basement. Oh, where can you go when your money gets low? In the basement. Down in the basement.

SHEPHERD: After this summer of tumultuous economics and weather, the idea that hosting a dance party in your basement might overcome that sounds like wishful thinking. But Zanes isn't alone. Many families believe it, too. And even if your party's guest list isn't as impressive, you can still push the tables and chairs out of the way and dance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE BASEMENT")

SHARON JONES: (Singing) ...in the basement. Down in the basement. There's no cover charge or fees and the food is (unintelligible) free in the basement. Down in the basement. In the basement. That's where it's at.

NORRIS: That's Dan Zanes and Sharon Jones singing on Dan Zanes' new album, "Little Nut Tree." Stefan Shepherd blogs about kids music at zooglobble.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN THE BASEMENT")

JONES: (Singing) In the basement. That's where it's at. In the basement. That's where it's at and you can come and (unintelligible). You can jam into the basement in the basement. Down in the basement.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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