Dan Zanes' 2004 album Parades and Panoramas: 25 Songs Collected by Carl Sandburg is not, strictly speaking, a "kids music" album. This collection of songs from The American Songbag, compiled and published by the poet Carl Sandburg in 1927 does not always have the friendly vibe found on Zanes' five kids-related CDs. But it is a "family music" album in the best way -- it encourages families to listen, and occasionally sing, together.
Recorded with the same large and talented cast of characters Zanes has recorded his last few albums with, the album takes the Sandburg's collected songs and gives them new life. Musically, this isn't the rave-up (mostly) of Bruce Springsteen's Seeger Session album, nor is it quite as modern as the two Billy Bragg-Wilco Mermaid Avenue collections, but there are a few songs given a modern touch, such as "All Night Long," on which Rankin' Don recites the words of French painter Millet, or the midtempo rocker "The Midnight Train," about which Zanes notes, "I couldn't believe that it wasn't being played by every rock and roll band in New York."
The songs themselves are a history lesson. "Titanic," which tells the story of that fateful ship, is given a sprightly reading. Zanes and his brother-in-law Donald Saaf have a nice duet on "The E-ri-e," which tells a story about a different fateful ship. The California Gold Rush is given a nice banjo accompaniment on "California." All of which wouldn't be much more than a nice historical collection if it weren't for the sheer fun of some of these arrangements. The recurring tuba, fiddle, and many other fabulous instruments make the album a joy to listen to. At 65 minutes in length, the album is sometimes a bit much for one sitting, and the liner notes, while fabulously detailed, are sometimes rendered in fonts that make it harder than necessary to read. But those are really minor quibbles.
Like with all of Zanes' CDs, this one is appropriate for many ages. However, given the storytelling nature of many of these songs, I think kids ages 5 and up would probably get the most out of the album. You can hear samples, read lyrics and chords here.
I find Parades and Panoramas best exemplified by the rollicking "The Son of a Gambolier," a drinking song sung by a kid (with accompaniment reaching double-digits). It speaks both to the rough start of this country and to the sheer fun of communal singing. You're bound to find some song that strikes you similarly and you may, like me, be inspired to track down the Songbag that inspired Zanes to see what other delights the other 255 songs hold. Definitely recommended.