One would be hard-pressed to come up with an actual number of folk song albums released over the decades that were targeted toward children’s ears. Many of those albums have been horribly condescending, and many, many of them would have been better off remaining in the artist’s to-do list rather than on record shelves.
On the other hand, a few examples of folk song collections have been brilliant stars, shining through the years as examples of well-done song selection and accessible, intelligent, and fun performances. An example of well-done folk song interpretation that instantly comes to mind is the collective Seeger family: Ruth Crawford Seeger’s research and collection of folk songs, and Pete Seeger’s and Mike and Peggy Seeger’s mass popularization of the genre.
Laura Veirs' Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children
Tumble Bee, one of the best collections of folk songs for children and their families in 2011, gleams and shimmers, providing a great example of how one properly performs and produces an album of folk songs. Portland, Oregon-based singer/songwriter Laura Viers and her producer/husband Tucker Martine released Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children on Viers’ own Raven Marching Band Records label, and the album features special guests like Béla Fleck, Basia Bulat, Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, and Bob Dylan’s drummer Brian Blade.
Tumble Bee presents Veirs’ aural interpretation of some of folk music’s oldest tunes, including work songs, Civil War tunes, and calypsos, featuring works written by Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, and Harry Belafonte, atmospherically produced and arranged by collaborator and husband Tucker Martine.
From her Colorado birthplace to her Minnesota college years to her international travels, Laura Veirs has cultivated a love of and appreciation for traditional folk and country music. Her self-released eponymous debut came out in 1999, and Veirs later signed with the Nonesuch label, debuting with Carbon Glacier in 2004. After releasing several more records on Nonesuch, Veirs formed her own record label, Raven Marching Band Records, and put out her seventh CD July Flame in 2010. Tumble Bee followed in November of 2011.
The Music of Tumble Bee
Tumble Bee kicks off with a loping version of the traditional “Little Lap Dog Lullaby,” featuring atmospheric guitar, chirping banjo, and detuned snare, giving the tune a warm, lazy feel. Next is Veirs’ shimmering, distant cover of prolific early 20th Century songwriter Billy Hill’s “Prairie Lullaby,” one of those songs that you’ve most likely heard before but can’t remember from where (a movie? an old cartoon? a commercial?). Barroom upright piano and vocal harmonies carry the joyful traditional sing along song “Jack Can I Ride?” while Veirs’ indie pop cover of contemporary singer/songwriter Karl Blau’s “Tumble Bee” would positively be a hit on college radio.
The traditional and oft covered “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O” is a rowdy campfire sing along led by a rousing banjo, and is followed by another tune from the traditional folk song catalogue, “All the Pretty Little Horses,” a dark, haunting, yet tender lullaby that features a yearning fiddle and beautifully double tracked vocals. Yet another old school traditional song is performed in “The Fox,” a sing along cumulative story song that’ll have the entire household or classroom joining in as the chorus comes along.
More Music from Tumble Bee
“Jump Down Spin Around” is a cover of a traditional work tune called “Pick a Bale of Cotton,” first performed by legendary folk and blues singer Lead Belly. Harry Belafonte made this cover version popular back in 1955 on his RCA extended play release Belafonte Act II, and Veirs' group vocals and percussive backing follow Belafonte’s version more closely. Then comes Veirs’ harmony filled, steel guitar flavored cover of Woody Guthrie’s philosophical “Why Oh Why,” a super sweet tune from Guthrie’s 1956 Folkways album Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child, followed by a very brief “Down in the Medder,” an instrumental collaboration between Veirs and fellow singer songwriter Karl Blau.
The popular traditional fiddle song/dance tune “Soldier’s Joy” was made even more popular in the mid-20th Century when Jimmy Driftwood wrote lyrics to the song in 1957, and Colin Meloy of The Decemberists joins Veirs on the Tumble Bee version. “Jamaica Farewell” is a swaying calypso song given lyrics by Lord Burgess in the mid-20th Century and made hugely popular by Harry Belafonte, later covered by kids’ music star Dan Zanes on his album House Party. Tumble Bee comes to a close with “Prairie Dream” a brief reprise of “Prairie Lullaby” featuring soothing, floating, distant piano notes.
It’s rare to come across a collection of folk tunes performed and produced with originality that retain those songs’ personalities and histories. Every once in a while, listeners discover such albums, and what a discovery Tumble Bee is. Laura Veirs’ interpretation of these 13 songs make Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children one of the best kids’ music albums of 2012. For more information about Laura Veirs and her music, visit the official Laura Veirs website.
Released November 8, 2011; Raven Marching Band
- “Little Lap Dog Lullaby” - Traditional
- “Prairie Lullaby” - Billy Hill
- “Jack Can I Ride?” - Traditional
- “Tumble Bee” - Karl Blau
- “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O” - Traditional
- “All the Pretty Little Horses” - Traditional
- “The Fox” - Traditional
- “Jump Down Spin Around” - Harry Belafonte
- “Why Oh Why” - Woody Guthrie
- “Down in the Medder” - Laura Veirs/Karl Blau
- “Soldier's Joy” - Jimmy Driftwood
- “Jamaica Farewell” - Lord Burgess
- “Prairie Dream” - Rob Burger