Review: Bright Spaces 2 - Various Artists (Dan Zanes)

BrightSpaces2.jpgThere are two basic approaches to putting together a genre-specific compilation of music, approaches which for brevity's and wit's sake, I call Putumayo vs. Rough Guides. The former approach may not necessarily be an exhaustive look at a genre, but it sure results in a pleasant thirty-to-sixty-minute mix of music to someone unfamiliar with the genre. The latter approach is as much history lesson as mixtape and while you might not listen to it often, unless your expertise is such that you might have been asked to compile one of these yourself, you're bound to find something new and something really fabulous.

Bright Spaces 2 is Dan Zanes' Rough Guide to Family Folk Music.

Zanes compiled this 2006 collection, released last week, on behalf of the Bright Horizons Foundation. The Foundation sponsors the "Bright Spaces" program, which puts playrooms in shelters for children in crisis situations. He calls this collection a "musical scrapbook," and like many a scrapbook, it's a collection of snapshots (in this case, songs) that have significance to Zanes. His scrapbook might not be your scrapbook, but he's certainly taken a lot of pictures of family folk music.

Zanes pulls from artists young and old, famous and not. And unless your collection of family folk music is, oh, a thousand albums full, many of the tracks are likely to be new to you. Boston's Session Americana turns in a fabulously languid version of "Merzidotes," which is followed by "L'cha Dodi," a 16th century Jewish tune recorded by Craig Taubman. The Deighton Family, a real "family band" for whom Zanes has had many a good word, leads off the album with a happy "When You're Smilin'." And Zanes re-records his hit "Jump Up" with New York band Astrograss, putting a more muscular bluegrassy accompaniment to his tune -- I wouldn't buy the album just for that version, but it's good in its own right and different than the original. There are probably few tunes you already have in your collection -- Elizabeth Mitchell's version of "Little Sack of Sugar" and the Garcia/Grisman rendition of "Hopalong Peter" are the two most likely. If there's any downside to the collection is that it lacks some of the musical diversity that makes Zanes' own albums such adventures to listen to. The songs here fit more in the folk music mold, and if that's not your bag, you may be underwhelmed.

As an album of family folk music, it's really appropriate for all ages, though the tiniest ones may not be too interested. Call it ages 2 through 10. You can purchase the album at Amazon as well as on this page. You can hear the Astrograss/Dan Zanes track here.

In calling this the "Rough Guide to Family Folk Music," I've probably understated the mixtape qualities of Bright Spaces 2. There are good and excellent tracks collected here, and, if you have any affinity for Zanes' music-making, will without a doubt send you spinning off in at least one new direction you've not gone before. Recommended.