Review: House Party - Dan Zanes

There are those kids' albums that sound like they're specifically geared toward, well, kids. The best of these get into the kids' worlds, their hopes and fears. The worst talk down to kids, way too stickly sweet.

And then there's Dan Zanes. His albums are the best example of what I'd call "family music." Instead of gearing his music primarily toward kids, Zanes finds (or, on occasion, writes) songs the whole family can enjoy. Zanes' 2003 album, House Party, exemplifies this approach. The title track is all about making music at home with family friends. My daughter asks to listen to it all the time, along with the uptempo "Down In The Valley." "House Party" is followed up by the traditional bluegrass tune, "Wabash Cannonball." There's nothing about "Cannonball" that makes it geared towards kids, except the fact that it's just a great little song, part of the American song canon.

"Cannonball" is only one a few traditional songs Zanes uses to good effect on the CD. My favorite is a lovely duet with Debbie Harry on "Waltzing Matilda," on which Harry's voice is so lovely you can't believe you're listening to the same person who led (and still leads) the rock band Blondie. As fun as that and other songs are on the CD, my very favorite is a Zanes original that ends the CD, "A Place For Us." A simple song about friendship and belonging, with composer Philip Glass on pump organ, I find it almost heartbreakingly beautiful, which lets me indulge its 6-minute runtime. (It's way too long for kids, of course, but I think it's great.)

Like all of Zanes' CDs, this one comes packaged in an illustrated book-like cases with liner notes. But you'll probably be too busy dancing with your kids to read it. (Unless, of course, you're driving. Then you're not dancing. I hope.)