Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"I'd smile a sky from East to West"

I’m sort of savoring this moment right now, because in all likelihood, Baby Dee’s new album, her first on Drag City, has all the indications of getting real big real fast. Judging from the leaked posted on My Old Kentucky Blog, the sound is fuller and jauntier than her previous work and features excellent guest personnel . “Safe Inside the Day” comes out on January 22, making this an opportune time to dive into her older material.

What probably won’t get mentioned in the upcoming critical notices is that, Baby Dee has quietly become one of he most amazing lyricists we’re likely to see for a long time, and maybe even the best of the decade.

I’ve been following her since she was a mainstay in the carnival scene around Coney Island when she played the occasional gig with the Bindlestiff troupe or, more prominently, at the NYC institution Joe’s Pub. Because of her identification as a post-op transsexual there was a condescending tone that surrounded her work. It was always deemed good, but largely dismissed as the product of an over-stylized persona. Gradually, she became the sort of musician only appreciated by a tight circle of independent artists which grew over time.

Right now I’m staring at the lyrics sheet for her 2001 LP “Love’s Small Songs” and all these years later, I’m still shocked that there’s a human being who put this together. There are few cultural touchstones for her work and most of them date back, by her own admission, to various stages in 18th and 19th Century music and literature. This makes the construction of her songs even more fascinating.

Her work has the high optimism of Classical era composers, retaining all of its grace but none of its language. As a result, this is music that is literally unstuck in time, songs that could be written 80 years from now or 200 years ago. There are no dated reference (even linguistically), no junky production values, and painfully simple harmonies with the scantest contrasts. When the music is upbeat it soars through the repetition of choruses, and when its somber it occurs to me that she has created her own culture that the rest of us can only bear witness to.

People have been most critical of her actual voice, which is a low garble that rests at bizarre times and alternates between half-hearted falsettos and spoken declarations. But it is beautiful and the only voice for her compositions that I could ever imagine.

In her heart Baby Dee is the eternal optimist and that’s sort of the cruel trick of it all. The reality is that she makes us cross the threshold into sadness on our own, to the point where we no longer hear her singing.

2 Comments:

Blogger Andrew said...

I've not read a more insightful collection of thoughts on Baby Dee and her music.

I commend you, and agree with you - Dee's lyrics are stupendous. And the melodies... oh...

Happy New Year!

Love,
Andrew W.K.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Katie M said...

Beautifully written! This is wonderful!

5:05 PM  

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