I didn’t get where I am today by being resistant to change. Bob Dylan went electric — and I cheered. Van Halen fired David Lee Roth and brought in Sammy Hagar — I didn’t even flinch. Madonna’s band found itself a new lead dancer — frankly, I didn’t notice.
So, yes, I’m an open-minded critic — but I’m also an old coot, so I must admit that I picked up Dan Zanes’s new LP, “¡Nueva York!” with a great deal of trepedation.
The album, you see, is entirely in Spanish.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Spanish. I even picked up a little of the language when my colleague Ernest and I were covering Franco’s little war in the 1930s.
It’s just that even when a visionary like Zanes — the Pete Townshend of kids’ music — heads south for inspiration, the result could so easily turn into that “world music” garbage that’s always tom-tomming through speakers at fair-trade coffee shops in Williamsburg.
My fears were misguided. Zanes’s all-Spanish album is a monumental work. From its first track, the Santana-styled, chant-and-repeat “El Pescador,” Zanes is not merely spitting out a pastiche of Latino styles and lyrics, but has breathed them into his musical soul, a la Paul Simon.
The comparison is apt. “Colas,” for example, starts out with Zanes’s ethereal accordion and mandolin sound, but builds to the kind of group singalong that Simon perfected on “Graceland.”
I could do without “Pollito Chicken,” which is little more than a Spanish-language lesson set to a rap, but that’s one of the few sour notes on the album.
You know, I may be crustier than a mold-covered piece of unrefrigerated cheese, but I have to hand it to Zanes. He could have played it safe, churning out unchallenging records for years and years and kept scooping in the Grammys. But “¡Nueva York!” takes a chance, trusting its gradually aging kids audience will accept new sounds and themes.
And politics. “During the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about immigrants and immigration, much of it quite mean-spirited,” Zanes said in the liner notes. “Maybe for the young person in Idaho or Arkansas who [hears] of the so-called immigration problems, it might be useful to hear another scenario — a wild musical gathering where everyone was invited and welcomed.”
“¡Nueva York!” is certainly wild, certainly musical — and it’s certainly welcome.