I've been watching a lot of kids music DVDs lately, and I've found that my appreciation of the individual DVDs is roughly commensurate with my appreciation of the artist. Or, to be all math-like, E(d) = E(a) * PQ. (Enjoyment of DVD equals enjoyment of artist multiplied by the production quality of the DVD.)
So it's probably a safe assumption that I'll enjoy a Dan Zanes DVD, not just because it's, well, Dan Zanes, but also because he has the friends (and, frankly, the resources) to make sure it's a high-quality product. Unsurprisingly, then, I'm here to tell you that I like The Fine Friends Are Here, the brand new DVD from Dan Zanes and Friends.
We can start out with the Dan Zanes portion of the equation. Zanes puts together a fairly eclectic setlist for the live show recorded at Brooklyn's Jalopy Theatre, drawing from all across his decades' worth of family music, playing both popular and more unfamiliar songs. There's a fair number of tunes from CDs released after the All Around the Kitchen DVD was released in 2005, but old chestnuts (but live staples) like "Water for the Elephants" and "Jump Up" get their turn, too.
I will confess to missing Zanes' old band -- I still love hearing Barbara Brousal's and Cynthia Hopkins' voices on record. Father Goose brought a jolt to the stage whenever he went on. But that's a personal thing, I suppose, and there's no doubt his current band provides a much broader sound on stage than the old band did. Violin, harmonica, horns -- Zanes is able to energize old favorites without removing their essential core. (Colin Brooks, the only non-DZ holdover, continues to provide excellent percussive support.) "Cape Cod Girls," horns and all, is just about the rockingest track Zanes has ever recorded for families. "Colas" has even more propulsive energy than on record. (You may even prefer to get the album in mp3 rather than video format -- a possibility at Amazon and iTunes.)
As for the production quality, it, too, is pretty high. Zanes got a couple guest artists (Caridad de la Luz AKA La Bruja, who sings, and David Alan AKA Cyclone, who dances) to join in and the concert features some nifty art design (the world's largest papier mache canary's head, for example). Throw in some costumes for the kids and adults to try on midway through the show, and while I'm not sure I completely felt the party watching at home, it does make for something more intriguing than a standard 3-camera concert video. The choice to mix the videos for "Pollito Chicken," "Wonder Wheel," and (my personal favorite) "Night Owl" in between the concert songs is a wise one, as it further mixes it up.
As for the bonus audio CD, I think it'll be a popular addition for listeners, even though it's essentially Dan Zanes sans Friends. Zanes' duet with his daughter Anna on the Beatles' "I've Just Seen a Face" is sweet, and the rest of the songs ("Hush, Little Baby," "The Bells of Ireland," "Goodnight, Goodnight," or, on an Amazon mp3 exclusive "Summer Wind") are mellow tracks, mostly Zanes unaccompanied. I particularly liked "Hush, Little Baby," which sounds like Zanes channeling John Prine.
As with just about all Dan Zanes albums, this one, too, is essentially all-ages. (OK, 3 on up.) You can listen to samples at the usual places.
Dan Zanes can buy The Fine Friends Are Here assured in the fact that it delivers in conveying not a small amount of the energy of his live show with fine audio and video. In both song performance and presentation, it's a very good document of exactly why Zanes has been winning friends across the country and world with his all ages brand of music for more than a decade. Definitely recommended.