Book/CD Review: Hello Hello / Jump Up! - Dan Zanes and Donald Saaf

HelloHello.gifYou might think Dan Zanes is mostly artistic musically, but his family creates art in other ways. His sister Julia and her husband, his brother-in-law Donald Saaf, exhibit their paintings in galleries, and Donald has done the artwork for all five of Dan Zanes' family albums.

So if you're Dan and you're thinking of doing a book, who do you turn to? Donald, of course.

In 2004, Zanes and Saaf released Hello Hello and followed that up in 2005 with Jump Up!. Each book comes with a 5-song EP of music Zanes recorded with his band, accompanied by Saaf's paintings. Of the two EPs, I think Jump Up!'s is the stronger of the two. Perhaps it's the perkier, more uptempo nature of the songs on the collection, but I found the latter CD a better collection of songs. I also think it's more diverse, following up "Hal-An-Tow," an English song on which David Jones makes an appearance with "Mango Walk," a fun Jamaican folk song. In other words, it sounds more like an actual Dan Zanes album than the Hello Hello EP, which I found less diverse. I did like "Alabama Bound," but also thought the re-recorded version of "Hello" on the EP sounded too muddy.

JumpUpjpg.jpgThe books themselves are OK -- Saaf's drawings are fun and filled with fun details, but he's illustrating the title tracks' song lyrics which don't, in and of themselves, have much of a plot. They're nice to look at, but not the most compelling books by themselves. The books also have notes, chords, lyrics, and liner notes for each of the songs on the EP, to help the readers who want to play the songs on their own.

I think the books are most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7. (The songs on each of the 13-14-minute EPs are appropriate for everybody, natch. They're Dan Zanes!) You can get the books at many booksellers, and you can watch a video for "Hello" (the original version, but featuring Saaf's artwork similar to that in the book) here. You can also purchase the EPs on iTunes here as an album called Social Music, minus "Hello," but plus the Loudon-less video version of "All Around the Kitchen".

The music on Hello Hello and Jump Up! is similar in nature to a set of B-sides, some songs just as strong as the regular albums, others OK, but nothing special. If you have friends who don't know Dan Zanes, this isn't a bad way to introduce them. If your family includes Dan Zanes fans, they'll like these, though they're not as essential as the regular albums. But even less-than-essential Dan Zanes music is still recommended.