Dan Zanes And Friends, Catch That Train!

Karen Schoemer

By Karen Schoemer

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

With its locomotive artwork and chug-chug sound effects, not to mention a remake of Louis Jordan's 1946 hit "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie" enlivened with Jamaican toasting and blurping tuba, Dan Zanes 'fifth family album seems a none-too-subtle shout-out to the boys in his audience — Brooklyn's beloved kid-music maven painting himself Thomas-the-Tank-Engine blue. But Zanes is no shallow thinker, and those easy signifiers are just the beginning. Catch That Train! is a subway ride through musical neighborhoods, with stops at southern gospel ("The Welcome Table," featuring the Blind Boys of Alabama), Mexican folk ("Mariposa Olé," with bandmate Barbara Brousal), rustic Scottish balladry ("Loch Lomond," with guest Natalie Merchant), South African chant (the breathtaking "Pigogo," with the Children of Agape) and even Depression-era protest ("I Don't Want Your Millions, Mister," with the hilariously titled How Not To Get Rich Orchestra). It's his finest outing since Rocket Ship Beach in 2000.

This train is bound for glory.

Zanes's world is undeniably romantic — an urban utopia where races mingle, small-town values abound and a lilting cacophony of banjos, brass and pump organ cuts through the barbed wire of class differences and cultural misunderstandings. But his affection for disparate genres is so apparent, and his optimism so sincere, that the end result just feels inspired. Even gloom-monger Nick Cave, dropping in for the sailor's waltz "Sweet Rosyanne," sounds huggable. If Zanes can melt his fierce heart, cranky children and worn-out parents haven't a prayer.