Reviewed by Gregory Keer
To see Dan Zanes in concert is to witness a musician so comfortable in his skills and on-stage presence that it appears he’s playing for a few friends on a Sunday afternoon. Zanes stands as one of the pioneers of contemporary family music that captures all maturity levels with a depth of richness and an air of playfulness. The wild-haired, rockin’ dad who played with the popular ‘80s band the Del Fuegos follows up his 2007 Grammy-winning album Catch That Train with this multicultural, festive recording.
Zanes sings and plays a variety of instruments with earthy ease throughout the 16 tracks on Little Nut Tree, but he’s well supported by an all-star cast of musicians. “Jim Along Josie’s” folk-blues benefits from Zanes’s frequent collaborator Father Goose, who lends a Jamaican flair to the backing vocals. Innovative string-instrument player and singer Andrew Bird joins the band leader on “I Don’t Need Sunny Skies,” a bright-messaged tune about being inspired by someone who lifts your spirits no matter what the clouds might say. On “Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy,” Zanes grooves along with the marvelous Joan Osborne (of “What If God Were One of Us?” fame) while an organ, guitar, and horn section inflect the soulful sound.
This album is as consistently upbeat as it is sonically diverse. From the party feel of “In the Basement” and the Bob Marley-esque title track played with the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars to the welcoming strains of “Salaam” and the delicate “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere,” Zanes travels the world for exotic sounds and fits them all into his American roots foundation. Little Nut Tree is not only one of the year’s stand-out albums, it will likely be on my list as one of the best in the last decade.
www.danzanes.com – $14 (CD) – Ages 3 to All Grown Up