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Dan Zanes
 Cool Down Time, Private Music CD 0100582133-2, 1996 (39:53)

Cool, as in hot

Dan Zanes is hardly a household name, although you may have heard of Del Fuegos. Zanes fronted the popular Boston guitar band through three albums, but after their breakup in 1989 he took a hiatus from the music biz. After much soul searching and playing some gigs around New York to rediscover his muse, Zanes is back with a solo album of stripped down R&B-flavored guitar songs.

As the disc's title implies, Cool Down Time bubbles and simmers just this side of a boil. Minimalism is the order of the day here for Zanes and his two sidemen, Mitchell Froom on keyboards and veteran session-man Jerry Marotta on drums. Zanes' tight and angular rhythm guitar is impressive, awash in chunky distortion and vibrato. Marotta's drumming is tastefully understated, but always there in the pocket when you expect him.

It's hard to imagine this disc without producer Mitchell Froom's keyboard artistry. Zanes' spare guitar style gives Mitch plenty o' Froom to stretch out on organ and electric piano (a mix of B-3, Farfisa, Wurlitzer, and Rhodes). Throughout, he provides both texture and rhythmic interplay with Zanes (supplying many of the bass parts on keyboard). And as usual, his production - abetted by longtime henchman Tchad Blake behind the board - is top flight.

Most of the tunes strike a bemused and world weary tone, largely due to Zanes' dark lyrics and low-key vocal style. His soulful rasp is like an old friend, at once familiar and believable. "No Sky" uses jazzy overtones and cleverly oblique lyrics to describe meeting a new love interest ("No sky burst into flames/Rocks did not melt/Just an ordinary day/When everything changed"). Zanes' preoccupied delivery turns this into an oddly detached sort of love song. Even through its downbeat lyrics about a doomed relationship ("This ship we're on is burning/Strange but I've been yearning/While I'm losing everything I've got/You put me in a rough spot"), the churning "Rough Spot" is catchy as hell, thanks to its greasy vibrato guitar riff. The slinky "Little Blue Suit" is a definite keeper, with Froom's distorted Wurlitzer playing so fat and rich that it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it. "If You Live" (a Mose Allison song) features a primo organ solo from Froom; it combines the spirit of gospel and the heart of 60's punk, coming off like a church sermon in someone's garage. "All Time Girl" is a rootsy shuffle that sounds like a cross between Diddley, Holly, and Petty (aka Bo, Buddy and Tom).

A few of the slower songs drag a bit, but this is still a very worthwhile effort. If Zanes keeps making music this good, he may join the ranks of other legendary performers (Zappa, Zeppelin, Zevon, and ZZ) at the far end of the alphabet. -  Scott Boggan

Glenn Brooks says... Froom and Blake also worked wonders on Los Lobos' "Colossal Head".

production notes & song titles

Dan Zanes, vocals, guitar; Mitchell Froom, keyboards; Jerry Marotta, drums, saxophones, vocals; Tom Lloyd, vocals.

Produced by Mitchell Froom; recorded and mixed by Tchad Blake; mastered by Bob Ludwig.

Tested | No Sky | Rough Spot | Cruel Cold Feeling | Darkness Before Dawn | Little Blue Suit | All Time Girl | No Sense of Time | If You Live | Carelessly | Tic-Tac | Treasures of Love

Copyright © 1996 Peppercorn Press. All rights reserved.