Dan Zanes has been the de facto face of the evolution of children’s music over the past 20 years. Rocket Ship Beach in 2000 struck a chord called “kindie” that served as a template for batches of lesser acts (trust me, many sent their home-pressed CDs for review). Zanes expanded his repertoire to encompass lullabies, dance music, sea shanties, Latin America, and show tunes. Eventually, he cultivated material from the Great American songbook of early folk and blues performers, such as Lead Belly, Carl Sandburg, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. In 2018, he even released a spectrum-friendly CD, NIGHT TRAIN 57, with future spouse Claudia Eliaza and Yuriana Sobrino.
Rebranded as part of the duo Dan + Claudia Zanes, the new collection Let Love Be Your Guide has been released by Smithsonian Folkways. Coming from the streets of Baltimore, Maryland, Dan and Claudia have incorporated a raft of area musicians to tackle themes of racism inequity, community, social justice, and paying forward positive messages for new generations.
The material for Let Love Be Your Guide (and much more) was developed shortly after the couple relocated from Brooklyn. The coronavirus pandemic pushed Dan and Claudia to create a new song online every day, as their “Social Isolation Song Series.” Did they expect the experience to last as long as it did (200 days)? Regardless, the series is now part of the Library of Congress and acted as a new template for the socially-conscious music Dan and Claudia sought to create for young audiences and their families.
Dan and Claudia have set a high bar with the title track, a paean to the late voting rights advocate John Lewis and “Reparations is a Must,” about setting right the wrongs of history, with a side swing at the concept of critical race theory. “Coming Down” uses Claudia’s own life experiences and Dan’s keen songwriting abilities to conceptualize the end of white supremacy and the industrial military complex. The challenges and reality of mixed marriage are related on “Two Different Worlds.” Childhood fears (and day to day adult anxieties) are addressed with clarity, faith, and optimism on “Hold On.”
My older son turned 20 this year. Through his eyes, we’ve witnessed the full scope of the Dan Zanes evolution. Zanes let love be his guide with Claudia, as they’ve settled into the welcoming embrace of Baltimore. Armed with a fully actualized agenda of themes for families, Dan and Claudia are poised to paint a larger portrait as they harvest their new template.
Born and raised in New York (with a brief sojourn in New Jersey during his preteen years), Jeffrey Cohen lives in New York with his two sons. He has reviewed children's music for the past 14 years on his own blog. Jeff's podcast, "MrJeff2000 Explains It All" is available through iTunes.