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Album Review: Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children by Laura Veirs
Very Good, Based on 7 Critics
New Musical Express (NME) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
While indie is often perennially infantile, the genre’s efforts at making music for kids are usually intensely cloying. Following the birth of her first child, the underappreciated [a]Laura Veirs[/a] recorded an album of mostly traditional folk songs for children, which has charm far beyond the nursery: ‘[b]Little Lap Dog Lullaby[/b]’ and ‘[b]All The Pretty Little Horses[/b]’ are as beautiful as anything from [b]Sufjan[/b]’s ‘[b]Seven Swans[/b]’, and the record whips by on a sweet breeze, Veirs’ wry tones supplemented by ragged piano. Best of all are the traditional ‘[b]Jack Can I Ride[/b]’, the grizzly ‘[b]The Fox[/b]’ and [b]Harry Belafonte[/b]’s ‘[b]Jump Down Spin Around[/b]’, bounding along with hiccupy rhythm, but no cause for a burping.
Maybe the smartest thing about Laura Veirs' new children's album, Tumble Bee, is that some of its tracks aren't even children's songs. Researching the rich history of American folk music for material she could interpret, Veirs cast a wide net to include not only tunes written expressly for kids, but any other compositions she felt could reasonably slot alongside the likes of "Little Lap Dog Lullaby" and "King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O". Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the way our 21st-century ears tend to hear anything written 50 or 100 or more years ago as comparatively quaint, songs as thematically disparate as the Civil War-era "Soldier's Joy" (here a duet with the Decemberists' Colin Meloy) and a calypso tune popularized by Harry Belafonte, "Jamaica Farewell", don't feel so out of place on a record aimed at little ones.
Most new parents are a bit lost when faced with the dilemma of weeding out the good children’s music from the bad. For musician couples, like singer/songwriter Laura Viers and her producer/husband Tucker Martine, the solution is simple; make your own. On the appropriately titled Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children, Viers and Martine, along with special guests Béla Fleck, Basia Bulat, Colin Meloy (Decemberists), and Jim James (My Morning Jacket), explore some of the genre’s oldest tunes, including work songs (“Jump Down Spin Around”), Civil War tunes (“Soldier’s Joy”), and even a calypso (“Jamaica Farewell”).
The climax of “Snow Camping,” a song from Laura Veirs’s 2004 album Carbon Glacier, found the Colorado-born indie-folk songstress enlisting a group of professionally untrained children to join her during the song’s final verse. The seemingly mismatched alliance of Veirs’s alluring voice and the constant tone-shifting youths is strange yet magical, resulting in a carol that sounds as if it’s being sung in the living room of a happy family on Christmas Eve. Little did anyone know at the time that the closing moments of the song would act a prelude of sorts to an album Veirs would release seven years later.
Baby Einstein notwithstanding, we have a tendency to pander to our children. Everything gets wiped down with sanitizer, we talk “baby talk,” and sneaky moral or social lessons hide in the song lyrics we write for them. We force a lesson instead of presenting information and letting children parse through it. But before Clorox wipes, bubble gum-flavored amoxicillin, and Hum-V strollers, there wasn't an especially wide gulf between children and looming mortality.
Laura Veirs follows in the footsteps of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and others with Tumble Bee, a collection of songs for children. The half-hour set is sweet start to finish, with Veirs and long-time producer and collaborator Tucker Martine, giving these songs simple but lush instrumentation that keep classic children’s songs fresh. She is alternately comforting (“Prairie Lullaby”) and playful (the tack piano romp of “Jack Can I Ride?”).
Children’s songs old and new, presented with a lustre and sleepy delightfulness. Laura Barton 2011 Of course Oregon's Laura Veirs is not the first artist to record a children's record – arguably 1999's Lead Belly Sings for Children (and amalgamation of his Negro Folk Songs for Young People from 1960 and Play Parties in Song and Dance from 1941) paved the way, but it's not so very long since the Songs for the Young at Heart compilation which saw contributions from Jarvis Cocker, Cerys Matthews and Stuart Staples amongst many, as well as Mick Cooke of Belle & Sebastian's Colours Are Brighter, and Saint Etienne's Up the Wooden Hills EP. But Veirs' offering has a lustre and sleepy delightfulness that owes much to her lilting charm of her voice and her ear for a sublime melody.