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.
The album’s full title is Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs for Children, and that’s precisely what it is. In the wake of her own recent entrance into the realm of parenthood (with longtime romantic partner/producer Tucker Martine), Veirs has put together a charming collection of rustic tunes aimed at young ones—and, much like a Pixar film, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed by their chaperones. Despite its often unabashed unoriginality (it contains more than a few covers), Tumble Bee not only stands as a commendable memorialization of Veirs’s eternal love for her offspring, but as a healthy alternative for parents interested in directing their children away from Justin Bieber’s tween tractor beam.
On her last album, 2010’s unjustly overlooked July Flame, Veirs received some falsetto assistance from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who pops up again here, along with Bela Fleck, Basia Bulat, and the Decemberists’ Colin Meloy. At times, the album truly feels like a communal, even familial, experience, with Veirs’s ever-inviting voice as the centerpiece, supported by various worthy talents performing ditties tailor-made for wide-eyed whippersnappers. The album’s terrific opener, “Little Lap-Dog Lullaby,” is Tumble Bee at its most uplifting, with Veirs putting a modern twist on the classic country number with her hip delivery, capturing a stylish sound that recalls Karen O and the Kids’ Where the Wild Things Are soundtrack.
Other selections, however, are far from lighthearted kiddie fare: “All the Pretty Little Horses” retains a certain sadness as its rusty string section delicately mingles with Veirs’s solemn harmonies; the rollicking wartime anthem “Soldier’s Joy” might be a bit too theme-heavy for even moderately attentive kids; and “Jamaica Farewell” deals with broken hearts and the abandonment of friends. These are all well-crafted songs, but they stand out among the cheerier tunes. That said, Tumble Bee is mostly sweet without being cloying, its songs antiquated without feeling outdated.