By Vish KhannaCleveland, OH’s Baby Dee was brought here to be extraordinary, and she shows it off on the dark, occasionally absurd Safe Inside the Day. An evocative singer and classically trained harpist, Baby Dee is a former circus sideshow performer (as a bilateral hermaphrodite) and one-time music director/organist for a Catholic church in the Bronx. Using her great gifts for theatricality (she was once renowned for her New York street act, where she rode around on a gigantic tricycle while playing concert harp), Baby Dee infuses her newest batch of songs with palpable tones and vivid narratives. Brought to life by producers Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Safe Inside the Day is simply a trip. From the melancholy, thematically elusive title track to the sardonic chanting of "The Only Bones that Show,” Baby Dee seems to have emerged from another dimension, cackling at the horrors she’s about to impart. A little bit of Tom Waits’ twisted jaunt can be heard on "The Earlie King,” though he’d likely excuse himself from the joyful crassness of "Big Titty Bee Girl (From Dino Town).” Baby Dee is a refreshing force, weaving together earnest compositions with an equal helping of grace and pointed irreverence.
What compels you to write songs? Basically, when I do music, my thing is that I really do want to say something. There’s a kind of literalness about it; I go to a lot of trouble to say what I want to say with the music and then people want me to yammer on about it and all I ever do is then diminish the thing I wrote, almost without exception.
Was this record different for you? The main difference with this album is that I didn’t do it alone. A lot of the recording was collaborative, with Will and Matt and the other players. With the content, it went to a place I wouldn’t have gone on my own. They’re so dark and claustrophobic but because I had friends, it opened it all up and revealed the good inside the songs, that there was light in there after all.
Have previous jobs affected your writing? A lot of the obsessions I’ve had colour what I do, just because they’ve become such a part of me. None of them enabled me to write songs though — that just sort of happened. All the things I’ve done, they’re all in there somewhere, some more obviously than others. (Drag City)