Laura Veirs - Tumble Bee
released 7 November 2011 on Bella Union
One of the joys of music is the thrill of discovery. Whether it’s on the recommendation of a friend, prompted by a well-written review, or completely by chance, there’s a sense of satisfaction that accompanies finding a really great song or album of which you had no prior familiarity.
Before you reach that stage, however, you’re likely to listen to whatever your parents play and, in recent years, a sub-genre of adult-friendly kiddie music has been steadily growing. Presumably, the aim of such an exercise is to tempt children away from the babbling nonsense they find so appealing and get them to listen to something that doesn’t make Mummy and Daddy want to stove their own heads in. However, there’s something about it that somehow smacks of snobbery, and there’s a nagging feeling that particularly opinionated parents will use such albums to condition their children into listening to music they “should” enjoy.
Tumble Bee, Laura Veirs' album of folk songs for children, doesn’t particularly buck this trend and unfortunately falls awkwardly between the cracks. Much of the instrumentation and production is beautiful and light, but it’s difficult to believe a child will be engrossed in this when they could be listening to Rihanna or playing Angry Birds.
Veirs has maybe been slightly naïve - though this does suit the innocent, nostalgic feel of the record. The majority of the songs here are covers, several are traditional folk tunes, and they are handled in a delicate and expert fashion. All The Pretty Horses is a plaintive ballad, gorgeously framed by sweeping strings - more of a lullaby than anything - and the jaunty, slightly out-of-tune piano makes Jack Can I Rider? utterly charming. The songs most likely to appeal to children tap into their inquisitive nature or feature repetition. Why Oh Why asks, “Why can’t a bird eat an elephant?” and “Why can’t a mouse eat a streetcar?” and King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki Me O features a nonsense chant the under-5s are sure to lap up.
Elsewhere, you wonder what Veirs believes will particularly tap into the child psyche. Lyrics aside, Little Lap-Dog Lullaby wouldn’t sound out of place on a Fleet Foxes record, and as good a song as it is, the title track’s verse is in 9/8 time – it doesn’t exactly scream “one for the kids”, does it?
Ultimately, it seems Veirs has tried to do two things at once and has ended up doing neither particularly well. Despite this, it’s actually a rather enjoyable record, though it’s difficult to imagine when you’d ever play it. If you’re in the mood for something with a touch of pedal steel, you’re not going to reach for an album whose opening line is “Come up, horsey, hey hey”. Similarly, if Junior’s looking for kicks, finger-picked folk meditations are unlikely to be on the menu. Perhaps it’s a compromise album – put it on during a long car journey with the family to pass half an hour and no one’s likely to kick up a fuss.