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Baby Dee - Regifted Light

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Artist: Baby Dee

Album: Regifted Light

Label: Drag City

Review date: Mar. 22, 2011

The 88-key grand piano is perhaps thee most complex sound source in all acoustical Christendom. Accurately capturing its complete bandwidth, at all dynamic levels, is nigh on impossible for recordings -- be they warm analogue waveforms, or inert Nyquist digits. That’s just the rub. Baby Dee, though, rubs the harp strings. Cleveland’s transgendered éminence grise, Dee’s been pedaling the instrument’s idiomatic wares decades before Joanna Newsom made it the merde de rigueur. But just as Newsom has begun exploring the piano’s complexities as of late, Baby Dee, too, has poached hir harp for the ivories.

As per the title Regifted Light, our story starts with a present. Party-harding Andrew W.K. may seem like an unlikely benefactor, but remember that he was all over Dee’s last full-length, Safe Inside the Day. Thus, when Mr. Wilkes-Krier moved on up from his downtown NYC hovel to a posh, midtown loft, Baby Dee was shipped the Steinway D that the “Make Sex” author hadn’t room for. The rest, as they say, is hirstory. Like Fanny Mendelssohn trapped in Mozart’s body, Baby Dee went to work, and in spite of it all -- that is, writing chamber music for a world that doesn’t want hir...much less chamber music -- s/he’s emerged as a fully formed miniaturist composer.

To wit, it’s nearly 15 minutes before we even know s/he’s there. What Dee hinted at with the “Overture” to last year’s re-recorded A Book of Songs for Anne Marie, is expanded and better rendered here. It’s not exactly Beethoven or Mahler, much less Gruppen, as the tripartite suite of “Cowboys with Cowboy Hat Hair,” “Yapapipi” and “Coughing Up Cat Hair” are subdued aphorisms of piano, aux percussion, Matthew Robinson’s cello and Mark Messing on bassoon. But, like Beethoven, Baby Dee’s co-opted the classical rhetoric of a recurring theme, and like Brahms-post-Beethoven, s/he’s mastered the device of developing variation -- something that today’s best legit composers often miss.

When sweet Dee finally makes hirself known -- in that raspy, affected cackle everyone from David Tibet to Michael Gira has come to love -- it’s indeed a tad startling. And like pretty much all of Dee’s releases prior, lyrically, s/he can be quite the ham. A tune such as “Brother Slug and Sister Sail,” beautifully stark though it is, could easily be mistaken for an Edward Lear chanson. “Give me that pie. I want that pie. Give that pie to me, I must have that pie,” goes another -- the eponymous “The Pie Song.” That certainly reads silly, and were it any other voice save for Dee’s, I’d chastise him or her for it. Of course, Baby Dee is neither he nor she, and can thus get away with the childishly dark conclusion: “Give that pie to me, or I will be so sad.”

The darkness of gender dysmorphia may indeed be vast, but given the right illuminating gift, Baby Dee proves there’s still light nonetheless -- even for hir own chamber music. With typical poignancy, pregnant and potent, Dee retires from us here with the following: “I cannot perceive the light, except in gentle waves. The moon is my redeemer; the moon is my befriending Jesus. His blessing glistens on my back, and it multiplies -- from moon, to sun, to me. And with each regifting of the light, it’s gentleness increases.” To hear said gentility, dear listener, you simply have to turn hir on. Then and only then can you truly pay it forward -- Lux Æterna.

By Logan K. Young

Other Reviews of Baby Dee

Safe Inside the Day

A Book of Songs For Anne Marie

Read More

View all articles by Logan K. Young

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