The perpetual arbiter of female folk artists and a delightful soul grazer never distracted by inane goals, Laura Veirs’ seven previous studio releases remain ingrained within the consciences of those won over by a simplistic and poetic approach to the genre, all the while captivated by the woman behind the wow. Her new album, Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs For Children, charms purely through premise: a collection of covered children’s folk songs coveted by the American populace for many generations. Conceived after the own conception of her first born child, these renditions are almost indistinguishable from her usual style, yet the catering to a new target market is both admirable and flawlessly achieved.
A whimsical hum opens ‘Little Lap-Dog Lullaby’, which, with the essential tools of guitar and banjo, is set to address a listening audience of any size; Laura may be the ‘mama’ of a son but we listeners still retain a place as honourable children.
Bar its occasional tendency towards politically charged ideals and raw human emotion, folk can be hard to distinguish its intended age group, and the same applies here. Of course the chorused ‘babumbumbums’ in title track ‘Tumble Bee’, promises of cake to the ‘sweet little babe’ attempting sleep in ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’ and gosh darn all of ‘King Kong Kitchie Ki Mi O’ wouldn’t fool anyone ignorant of this album’s purpose, but like so many wonderful works of children’s entertainment the multi-generational appeal, not the dumbing down, is what gives it worth.
And indeed the lingering reality in some of these songs isn’t beautiful, at least not in the traditional sense. Though the fleeting guitar and Veirs’ vocals mastered for storytelling make ‘The Fox’ a wondrous campfire tale, lyrics equitable to Aesop’s fables don’t disguise nature’s brutality. Neither do some of the more historically embedded numbers, like the colloquial wartime classic ‘Soldier’s Joy’ (punctuated by superb fiddle) or the children’s game-song rooted in Negro heritage ‘Jump Down Spin Around’. The selection of tracks is highly significant from a culture standpoint, and the obscurity of some displays the huge research Laura and her music-for-life-man and producer Tucker Martine went through for their own and all children to gain from.
Her take on Billy Hill’s soothing Anthem ‘Prairie Lullaby’ is the best on offer in this compilation; as a prescribed man-child I now find it difficult to nod off without the brooding wail of strings, padded acoustic guitar and yodelling that soothes in a way un-thought of. It’s this indulgence in the kiddish nature of these covers that makes it appeal universal. I may know full well why a bird can’t eat an elephant, but it doesn’t make the advanced science within ‘Why Oh Why’ any less profound.
If you have children raised in this tween-pop Disney era then now you lack an excuse to rely on it. Laura Veirs’ latest record is an absolute triumph in concept, composition and sheer enjoyment. Listen to it by yourself, with a lover or a loved one and the effect is nothing less than artistic overload. When the as of yet unborn sprog who has the shame to call me father grows up he or she can at least thank me for playing Tumble Bee to them daily in their upbringing, that is after they finish resenting me for the endless reruns of Power Rangers.
Words > Graham Ashton