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