By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
Even if you didn't know that Baby Dee is a transsexual harpist who once busked in a bear costume and rode a high-rise tricycle dressed as a cat, the former New Yorker's strange new album, Safe Inside the Day, would conjure a backstory jacked up by creative risk-taking and existential torture. Produced by indie stalwarts Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney, this abrasive yet stunning record boasts a high-talent backing band, including bassist Andrew W.K. and multi- instrumentalist Robbie Lee, that nimbly treads through classical, folk, and outsider influences, all pointing to Dee's unusual biography.
About that: The classically trained troubadour gave up sacred repertoire in the '80s to change sexes and struggle through the '90s in a series of street stints, nightclub gigs, and menial-labor jobs. But Dee, 54, keeps her tumultuous adulthood under the surface here, instead looking back to her working-class upbringing in midcentury Cleveland. Dee had the average hellish childhood, except that she was a girl trapped in a boy's body, a condition she explains in the epic "The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities." She mourns the loss of faith on "Fresh Out of Candles," a slow, soulful number with lines like "God got angry/And the pope got mad/Told all the faithful/That the saints went bad." Shocks of humor lurk amid all this bitterness: "Big Titty Bee Girl," for example, is a slapstick show tune about an albino. Such silliness might scan as delirious misery given the rest of the album's dark mood, but Dee ends the set with a hint of real hope, cooing: "You'll find your footing/In another world/On another day/And in another time/You'll find your footing there."
Baby Dee plays Joe's Pub February 1, joespub.com