Photo by Stephanie Mayers

Photo by Stephanie Mayers


Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell are among today’s foremost creators of handmade, independent, age-desegregated music. He has won a GRAMMY®, she has been nominated for one, and both have garnered tremendous critical acclaim. Between them, they have collaborated with a wide range of artists, including Andrew Bird, Debbie Harry, Natalie Merchant, Lou Reed, Ziggy Marley, Levon Helm, Angelique Kidjo, Philip Glass and many more. Although they have long been friends and confidantes, they have pursued parallel but separate paths, until this, their first collaborative recording Turn Turn Turn, which Zanes’ Festival Five Records releases August 27. The album brings Zanes’ and Mitchell’s homespun musical visions to a collection of songs spanning time and place.

Zanes, Mitchell and Mitchell’s partner, Dan Littleton, have talked for almost seven years about making an album. Last year, they began playing shows together, and found the collaboration easy and joyful. They began planning the album in Zanes’ house, deep in the heart of Brooklyn, this spring, with friends and neighbors coming in and out with food, singing voices, and encouragement. They gathered again at Mitchell and Littleton’s home studio, in a forest just outside Woodstock, New York, where there was more good company and meals throughout the three days they spent recording. The result is a sort of “Basement Tapes for kids,” something The Village Voice called an early Dan Zanes & Friends album that describes Turn Turn Turn even better.

Turn Turn Turn sounds like a natural, almost effortless meeting of sympathetic sensibilities, rather than the execution of a concept. That Zanes, Mitchell and Littleton came together solely for the joy of making music together, with nothing to prove, is audible. Zanes describes the song selection process as almost telepathic; he, Mitchell and Littleton had many of the same tunes in mind. In addition to five new Zanes originals, including “Now Let’s Dance,” “Shine,” and “Coney Island Avenue,” as well as the sweet and humorous “Honey Bee” co-written by Mitchell and her sister-in-law Anna Padgett, the album includes the traditional “Raccoon and Possum,” adapted from Ruth Crawford Seeger as well as classics from the American folk cannon such as “Sail Away Ladies,” “My Creole Belle,” “Wim Wam Waddle” and “Train Is A Coming,” plus the 19th Century revival hymn “When I Get Home,” and “So Glad I’m Here,” a song from the Georgia Sea Islands.

A highlight, to be sure, is “Turn Turn Turn,” a song written by Pete Seeger a half century ago. This version includes recently unearthed additional lyrics (not in the Seeger original or the Byrds hit), written specifically for children by Pete’s wife, Toshi, that a friend of Mitchell’s heard at a recent Seeger performance. When Pete wrote the song, his wife Toshi suggested he write some verses for children; Pete encouraged Toshi to write them herself, and the words she wrote beautifully put in young people’s terms (“a time for quiet, a time for talk”; “a time to cry and make a fuss”; “a time to hug, a time to kiss”) the song’s central message that there is a time for everything. Zanes and Mitchell visited the Seegers at their home in Beacon, New York, to play them their version of the song. They jammed and talked for hours—about, among other things, music’s role in social change and family life.

Turn Turn Turn arrives a decade into Zanes’ and Mitchell’s family music discographies. They began these careers, in 2000 and 1998, respectively, making recordings for the children in their lives, all of whom are now young adults. Zanes and Mitchell were then breaking new ground, combining rock and roll pasts—Zanes as member of the Del Fuegos, and Mitchell and Littleton in the group Ida—with handmade approaches to making music that contemporary families could enjoy and share together. They have now grown up as artists, and created a genre occupied by numerous others.

Zanes and Mitchell will tour the country with Mitchell’s band You Are My Flower, performing material from the album, throughout the year. Dates will be announced soon.

About Dan Zanes and Festival Five Records

Established in 2000 Festival Five Records, the home of Dan Zanes his 21st-century handmade all-ages family music. Zanes began exploring age-desegregated music after the birth of his daughter in 1994 and soon after decided to abandon a pop music career, which had included four albums with Boston’s Del Fuegos, to form Festival Five Records, his decidedly independent label, and pursue family music full time. His first release Rocket Ship Beach was an immediate hit with families around America and over a decade later the GRAMMY Award-winning artist is known widely as the leading man of the family music genre. Among the several Parents Choice Award-winning, bestselling albums for kids and kid sympathizers are the acclaimed House Party, Night Time!, ¡Nueva York!, and Catch That Train!, which won the 2007 Grammy for “Best Musical Album for Children.” Music videos for Zanes’ songs have aired on The Noggin Network, Sesame Street, The Disney Channel’s “Playhouse Disney” and most recently on Sprout and HBO Family.

About Elizabeth Mitchell and You Are My Flower

Elizabeth Mitchell, a GRAMMY-nominated, Smithsonian Folkways artist, has been recording and performing music for children and families since 1998. During her time as a teacher, she found that music was a common language that all her students could share. You Are My Flower, her first album, was recorded in one magical afternoon in 1998. Her next album, You Are My Sunshine was released following the birth of her daughter, Storey, followed by You Are My Little Bird (2006), Sunny Day (2010), Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie (2012), and Blue Clouds (2012). Little Seed was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Children’s Album, and she is the host of the Newport Folk Festival family stage. She records and performs with her extended family band You Are My Flower, which includes her husband Daniel and daughter Storey.

Last updated: July 1, 2013


Blake Zidell