DVD Review: All Around the Kitchen! - Dan Zanes and Friends

Let me begin by saying, for the benefit of the newcomers to the site, that I if were trapped on a desert island with an iPod, and could pick just one children and family music artist to listen to (their kids' music only), it would probably be Dan Zanes. In part, this is a matter of material -- he's released 4 kids' albums and another 2 albums easily categorized as family music, so that's 6 albums right there. (Why limit yourself to just a couple albums?) But more importantly, to help me stave off going all Tom Hanks on the volleyball for as long as possible, Zanes' albums are eminently sane, hummable, and hopeful. They're albums I have no problem listening to when the kids are nowhere around.

Which brings us to his 2005 DVD release, All Around the Kitchen!. The DVD is a collection of his videos for Noggin and Sesame Street, along with some concert footage. Let's start with the videos. There are six of them, and by far my favorite is the Sandy Girls' rendition of "Go Down Emmanuel Road," which is an animated video for Sesame Street that shows the numbers one through five to nice anthropomorphic (numero-morphic?) effect. "Hello, Hello" for Noggin, is also animated (looking much like the Zanes/Donald Saaf book on which it's based). The other two Noggin videos are reminiscent of the Laurie Berkner videos -- the band acting goofy in front of a white background with shots of kids acting goofy in front of a white background. The final video, "Wanderin'," consists of concert footage and reminded me most of all those concert-footage videos by hair metal bands in the '80s (think Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive"). I doubt my kids will make that association, though... So that's six videos, 15 minutes, and your kids will probably like them.

The concert... well, I liked the concert, filmed at NYC's venerable Knitting Factory club in late 2004. The sound is great. It's well-filmed. But I don't know how much kids will love it. There are a number of crowd reaction shots where the kids are just sitting there, looking sort of like the audience in the Beatles' first Ed Sullivan Show appearance that wasn't crying uncontrollably. They're entranced, but they're not quite sure to make of 5 or 6 people up on stage making such a large sound. And so your kids may have the same reaction. They may get up to move more when Father Goose makes an appearance for the last 3 or 4 songs; in seeing the concert, I have a much better appreciation for what he brings to the band. The concert, then, is 9 songs, 30 minutes, and your kids' mileage may vary.

For those of you looking for an overview of Zanes' kids music, this isn't perfect, because 10 of the 15 songs come from Zanes' first two albums, with just 5 songs from his other four albums. Having said that, he hasn't changed his musical style much, and if you like the music on the DVD, you should definitely check out all his CDs. You can see a couple of his videos, including "Hello, Hello," here. It's a good DVD, but I recommend the videos more than the concert, at least for the kids.

Now... if I had a video iPod, would I choose Dan Zanes or They Might Be Giants? Hmmmmm...