Alternative acts releasing albums intended primarily for the ears of children has become more commonplace over recent years, as artists try to give music-loving parents the chance escape the occasional tedium and over-familiarity of traditional nursery rhymes and introduce their little ones to music that shares more with what they listen to. Laura Veirs’ recent personal entry into the world of motherhood inspired her to investigate the history of children’s music and consequently record Tumble Bee, a collection of traditional American folk songs refreshed and reinterpreted for youngsters. Her voice has always held a kind of doe-eyed, youthful innocence and she puts it to excellent use here with able assistance from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, Bela Fleck and Basia Bulat amongst others.
Musically, Tumble Bee is not too far removed from the bucolic, pastoral folk-pop of July Flame, Veirs’ somewhat unfairly overlooked album of 2010 although the predominantly wistful, melancholic feel of that record has been supplanted here by a lighthearted joie de vivre. Above all, the album delivers good old-fashioned fun in bountiful quantities.
Little Lap-Dog Lullaby kicks things off, unobtrusive arrangements and simple, repeated lyrics combining to form a prominent chorus. The album continues in similar style with Prairie Lullaby, which exhibits a distinct country feel and even sees Veirs indulging in some mild yodelling. It’s a gentle and soothing listen and it’s not difficult to imagine little ones drifting off to sleep as this plays out. All The Pretty Little Horses completes the trio of dreamy lullabies.
However, the highlights of the album undoubtedly occur when the pace quickens. The first we see of this is on Jack Can I Rider, a jovial, carefree sprint, aided by wobbly piano and violin. Her version of King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O canters along breezily, replete with whistles and finger-picking guitar whilst her cover of Harry Belafonte’s Jump Down Spin Around is a pleasingly foot-stomping, old-timey sing-along jaunt. All three tracks possess the kind of insistent melody that lodges itself firmly into your head, stubbornly refusing to move. Lyrically they are all simple affairs, each song featuring various members of the animal kingdom – elephants, butterflies, bees, mice and horses all getting a look in.
Elsewhere, the lyrical silliness of Why Oh Why overruns the tune, appearing to have been intentionally shoehorned in, whilst the smooth melodic flow of Karl Blau’s Tumblebee is an example of something that may find greater favour with adults familiar with Veirs’ back catalogue. Indeed, it could be said that as well as being an album for kids, it’s equally an album for adults who retain a sense of being kids at heart. The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy adds vocals to Soldier Joy and the album draws to a close with Jamaica Farewell, imparting a suitably melancholic, lilting feel.
Approaching such children-focused albums can give rise to nagging worries that the content may be in some way lacking or overly simplistic but this isn’t the case with Tumble Bee. Sure, it may be playful, uncomplicated and slightly honey-glazed but there is plenty here for music lovers of all ages to enjoy.