Baby Dee - "Lilacs" (A Book of Songs For Anne Marie)
It’s hard to know where to begin when it comes to Baby Dee. Two years ago, I spent a substantial word count establishing that Safe Inside the Day was not an indie rock album, despite being produced by Matt Sweeney and Bonnie "Prince" Billy. And Grayson Currin’s Pitchfork review of her new album, A Book of Songs for Anne Marie, has already done the work of establishing that Baby D. shouldn’t be confused with Joanna Newsom, Antony Hegarty, or one of David Tibet’s apocalyptic folk. But Dee’s particular affinity with Current 93’s side of the England’s Hidden Reverse spectrum is worth unpacking for this album.
Anne Marie is delicate where the earlier album was often bawdy. Maxim Moston, who played violin on Safe Inside the Day, produces and arranges the 12 songs here. In the liner notes, Dee describes herself as "less the writer of these songs than I am their unfit mother," claiming that without the help of her collaborators, they "would never have escaped the cramped and stinking hovel of my mind." It’s dangerous to take this too literally, since if Baby Dee really had no say in the production or arrangement style, the sense of progress from both the autobiographical and more obvious burlesque moments of Safe Inside the Day toward a limpid, unamplified, and shamelessly poetic style here would be the product of chance, not design. We as listeners don’t want to think that the vulnerability of lines like "Black But Comely"‘s "If I can’t have you/I can love you just the same" could be turned into broad comedy in a coarser collaborator’s hands.
After all, Safe Inside the Day was a more obvious listen because it needed to be: it presented the particulars of Dee’s life, identity, and sense of humor and implied her background as a street performer and music director at a Catholic church. Anne Marie covers less territory and fails satisfyingly at making an immediate impression. The connection to Current 93 is an occult one, an obsessive interest in closed-off musical trajectories. David Tibet has Comus and Baby Dee has the Roman School. The listener can imagine hearing the influence of Giovanni Palestrina coming through more clearly from the beginning: "Overture" begins the album with classical poise. Baby Dee often uses her voice to jump from a whisper into a shuddering croak, but the softer settings on Anne Marie give her vocal affectations more room to breathe. Safe Inside the Day‘s arrangements made it easy to take her singing as campy or blustery, though not insincere. With Songs for Anne Marie, Dee gives the impression that she’s settled into her parents’ Cleveland home—a struggle that was audible on Inside the Day. Now that she’s gotten used to that degree of comfort and familiarity, Anne Marie stands as a little imaginative home inside the real one, into which only her best friends are invited.