Former Del Fuego Dan Zanes has produced some quality kids 'albums over the past few years, but Parades and Panoramas isn't one of them. Not that this isn't a quality record — it is, and one that improves upon repeated listening. It's just that, with songs about bums and poverty, adventure and drink, it isn't exactly kids 'music. Here Zanes dips into the Carl Sandburg songbook The American Songbag, revisiting and reviving 25 tunes from the early days of recorded music, days when most music was still being sung on front porches. (Not to worry: the sound quality is much better than the old field recordings.) And the kids will still like it — 11 tracks refer to transportation, at least euphemistically.
The best storytellers try not to get in the way of a good story; here Zanes seems to take pains not to get in the way of a good song. Though each tune has his unique stamp, the arrangements — which can include cello, tuba, pump organ, autoharp and French horn, along with Zanes 'guitar and mandolin — are never overdone. Nor is the singing, regardless of whether it's Byrdsy or Seegerish, whether it's slightly ragged (Zanes) or rolling (Wayne Rhoden), whether it's sweet (Barbara Brousal) or bittersweet (Cynthia Hopkins). "Wanderin," the album's unhurried opener, is a good metaphor for Zanes 'music these days and for this album, a follow-up to his collection of sea shanties. Neither comes off like a history lesson.