Since Catch That Train! (his latest release) was distributed via Starbucks' Hear Music label, Zanes has been able to expand his musical horizons and explore new sounds, including a handful of Spanish-language tunes. "We also have a new person singing, called Sonia de Los Santos, who comes from a Puerto Rican background," he says over the phone from his home in Brooklyn. "She has been a great addition to the band."
Zanes' ever-rotating band plays in a laid-back manner but sounds tight. "There are six people switching instruments and everybody sings," he says. "More recently, we added a horn section, which has really changed the way we sound."
The inclusion of Latin singers in his ensemble comes as Zanes begins work on Nueva York, his first Spanish-language disc. "It will be a pro-immigration CD," he says. "This whole argument has become pretty rocky, and the thing that we are missing [in this debate] is the celebration of the cultural mix — I think that music can build bridges, and it's exciting to be thinking in those lines; the possibilities are incredible, and the music is really fun to play."
This belief has also prompted him to study Spanish. "The more I am able to speak [the language], the better I feel, and that is important in these times," he says. "It's the future. We have to admit that we have become a bilingual nation."
Among the tunes en español he has added to his set list are "La Piragua" ("The Canoe"), a well-known Colombian cumbia by Jose Barros, and "Palo Bonito," a traditional Latin folk song. "Kids that don't speak the language have no problem with it. Their ability is quite remarkable, and it's been fun to play these songs."
For their stop in Phoenix, Zanes says that the band will feature songs from Catch That Train! and his other discs. "It's going to be like a party in someone's living room, with a lot of singing and dancing," he says. "I can't wait to get to Phoenix!"