Oh, lord! Dan Zanes has found Jesus

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Dan Zanes has gone Bob Dylan on us.

By that, I don’t mean that the internationally known kids crooner of Cobble Hill is putting out mediocre albums, mumbling his way through songs and living the life of a hermitic nomad like the former Robert Zimmerman is doing nowadays.

But Zanes has taken a page from the Dylan playbook: he’s now a born again zealot.

As my Semitic friends might say, oy vey! Every track on Zanes’s new album, “The Welcome Table,” is about God.

There’s a song called “We’ve Been Down this Road Before,” that claims that “God is walking in this night among us all/He’ll guide us when we wanted and He’ll catch us when we fall.”

Another tune, “Up Above my Head,” presents as fact that “there’s a heaven somewhere.”

And there’s even a song called “In the Land of Egypt” that consists of passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

Those are sections of the Bible, I’m told.

The preaching on “The Welcome Table” is relentless. There are repeated references to humans being, “God’s children.” There is a song that suggests that the world would be a better place if we’d all just “get on board” the Jesus train. Another resuscitates the tired trope that any task can be achieved, even the relocation of a mountain, if one believes in God.

You may have observed from my tone that I have a problem with this.

Well, I am an atheist, so I have a problem with all things that treat the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful deity as a fact, when faith is, by definition, a belief in something that cannot be proven.

If that faith convinces you that there is a God, that’s fine by me. But do I have to hear about it when I put on a record for my beloved grandchild? It’s difficult enough to teach her about the scientific processes that cause rain and snow, the fact of Darwinian evolution, the complex fiscal patterns that rule our economy, and the moral failings of our elected leaders — now Zanes wants me to bring God into the equation?

Then again…

Having stated my belief in a lack of Belief, it must also be said that “The Welcome Table” is Dan Zanes’s best album to date.

Contradiction? No. Like Bob Dylan’s much-maligned “Shot of Love,” which came out during the singer’s “religious period,” Zanes’s new album features his best singing and production since he gave up his rock life with the Del Fuegos and started performing for kids.

The man found God — and, Jesus, this album cooks.

But is it for kids? That depends. Do you want to explain to your children that they don’t actually control their destiny, but God does? It’s quite a disempowering philosophy — one that forgives all sins and absolves all laziness, provided you believe in God.

Dan Zanes’s “The Welcome Table” goes on sale on Feb. 27. For info, visit

Updated 5:11 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Feb. 20, 2009, 6:26 pm
Jack from Bay Ridge says:

I understand the guy's irritation. Zanes is known for kids' music, the writer has relied on this stuff for his grandkids, and suddenly it takes a heavy religious tilt - messages that Christians would regard as 'wallpaper' (since they're used to it), but can be pretty offputting to others.
And it's not as if this writer is the first & only person to have problems with this!
Feb. 21, 2009, 10:10 am
Bonnie says:
Don't like it? Don't buy it. It's a simple as that. It won't be the first time that you'll be disappointed in something or someone and it won't be the last. And perhaps it's important to let the grandkids make up there own minds about religion just as the writer has done himself.
Feb. 21, 2009, 11:49 am
om says:
Dan Zanes' wife once put her back to me and read a newspaper while I was trying to talk to her. Not very loving or Christian like. Hypocrites.
Feb. 22, 2009, 9:16 am
Marie from Bay Ridge says:
Bonnie says: "And perhaps it's important to let the grandkids make up there own minds about religion just as the writer has done himself."

True. But we ARE taking about young kids here, who are 'way below the age of religion-choosing.

I have and enjoy tons of "religious" music, but I'm an adult -- whereas this CD is pitched to kids, and it doesn't just feature a spiritual plus secular mix, or religious songs that reflect U.S. culture or variety:
The material is relentlessly "Gospel"-Christian religious (its only non-Christian song is in Hebrew!) -- with the Holy Ghost, invisible "saints," a world "just above my head," and a Jesus who'll heal all your ills if you "just call Him up and tell Him what you want." And the extent of this isn't evident by song-title alone.

If a young kid doesn't hold these beliefs, or has no previous exposure to them, they can be befuddling or scary.
The material also can be hard to explain in a purely-educational way, i.e., w/o endorsing it, getting too-complex-for-kids, or being entirely dismissive. [Even many Christians prefer to emphasize good works and doing-as-Jesus-did, not passive faith in post-death reward and a wish-fulfilling Jesus!]

And -- for kids, at least -- it risks being a proselytizing tool, since music is powerful, kids "trust" this performer, and the material pitches a very specific Christian mindset.

For all I care, Zanes can record whole hymn-sings, revivals, and folk Masses, or devote an entire CD to Buddhism or Zoroastrianism -- as long as he doesn't pitch it as an everykid-thing.
Feb. 23, 2009, 4:32 pm
riverdale mom from riverdale says:
Actually, there is a simple solution to your quandry. How about you just don't buy it or play it if you have a problem with it?

Everyone is entitled to their own belief system.
Feb. 25, 2009, 11:49 am
George from Bklyn says:
riverdale mom from riverdale says:
'Everyone is entitled to their own belief system.'

Of course! But that's NOT the issue here.
As several have said ... the issue is that
... this performer is known for children's music,
... none of his many previous CDs were religious,
... this one is VERY religious, but you can't tell from the title - 'The Welcome Table: Songs of Inspiration, Mystery and Good Times.'
As Marie says, you can't tell it from the song titles, either. Some are vague. Others are Biblical, but don't hint that the words go 'way beyond usual folk-spiritual fare, and that the whole theme is ultra-Christian.
Some ppl learned this only after buying it. They didn't research it first, since (as Jack said) they relied on Zanes' longtime rep for general-consumption children's music.

It's a perfectly fine CD ... but it should've been clearer that it was mostly Christian 'gospel' or 'praise' music.
Feb. 25, 2009, 11:02 pm
newyorktimesfan from fort greene says:
Dan Zane is nothing short of ignorant...suprise, suprise from the brooklyn paper.
Feb. 28, 2009, 10:34 am
newyorktimesfan from fort greene says:
I meant to say Thurston Dooley 3 is the ignorant.
Feb. 28, 2009, 10:35 am
George from Bklyn says:
"newyorktimesfan from fort greene says:
I meant to say Thurston Dooley 3 is the ignorant."

People aren't ignorant just because they don't share your opinion.
Zanes isn't ignorant, either - just un-forethoughtful.
Feb. 28, 2009, 1:29 pm
BKmom from Bensonhurst says:
You love your grandchildren.
God loves them too.
It is said that "God is love."
Yet you don't believe in God's existence.
So how do you believe in love?
March 13, 2009, 3:38 am
Sarah says:
Has anyone proved that God doesn't exist?
May 4, 2010, 7:05 am
John from Brooklyn says:
Has anyone proven Darwin's "THEORY of evolution" as it relates to the existence of "MAN"? No? Right! So in other words it's "OK" for you to base your denial of a "faith" on "faith", but it's not "OK" to have "faith"? BTW - Real Christians don't "believe" that there's a "G-d"...they KNOW it. We have a personal relationship with his Son! He's our Lord, Savior and friend!
March 20, 2011, 9:29 pm
susie from Indpls says:
I read your remarks with interest. I try to meet people where they are in the religious spectrum. I enjoy Dan's music and often play and sing his songs for my personal and family enjoyment. When I find songs, his or any others, that are a little "too Jesus" for me, I simply modify the words a bit and no one would know the difference unless I tell them. It is those songs that I sing and teach to the people - little and big- in my family. This is the true "folk tradition". I try to take the best of any music and make it work.
Sept. 5, 2011, 9:03 am
Trey from Earth says:
hahaha@ fact of evolution!! I read your article by choice, just like you listened to Dan Zanes album by choice. No one forced you. I am not saying you forced your "faith" in evolution on me, because I chose to read your article. I am stunned you would try to call evolution fact though, shame on you Mr. pot calling the kettle black! I am glad you put his record on for your grandchild, maybe she will meet someone. Thanks Dan Zanes!!
Feb. 25, 2012, 2:38 pm

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