Review : Baby Dee - Regifted Light
PitchforkBaby Dee is what you might call a late bloomer. When she released her first LP, Little Window, she was already in her late forties, and her biography read like a Tom Waits song. According to a story she told NPR, she fell in love with the harp at age four after discovering the one inside an upright piano during a neighborhood piano-smashing party. Later, she often played harp in Central Park while wearing a bear costume. She had stints as a church organist and a Coney Island sideshow. Her music is an equally paradoxical blend of spiritual uplift and tin-megaphone banter.
The transition from street artist to professional has been gradual. By 2008's Safe Inside the Day, she'd learned how to make a commercial album, and her signature harp and accordion gave way to grand piano-- a more typical and versatile foundation. With her remarkable life experience now paired with recording practice, Baby Dee has made her best album yet just a couple of years shy of her 60th birthday. Idiosyncratic but ruggedly classic, Regifted Light is old-fashioned art music with a sheen of downtown grit. Dee caresses and pounds producer Andrew WK's Steinway D to life with the lyrical bluster of Gershwin and the nimble thematic development of Sondheim. It's a welcome change of pace from the post-minimalism that's rampant in indie piano music.
Opening instrumental "Cowboys With Cowboy Hat Hair" establishes the album's harmonic environment, making this more of a song cycle than a collection of individual pieces. Over martial snares, Dee works a theme from the C Minor scale-- light on the sharps as to lean it toward bright C Major-- up and down the keyboard. The theme rolls back and forth on itself and fractures across different octaves in odd places so that lone high notes ring out ornamentally. Regifted Light never strays too far from this tonal vicinity, which creates a unified wistfulness that Dee articulates in every shade from happy to sad. The diversity arises from Dee's inspired handling of the shallow pool of intervals-- you never know which way the themes will veer next, into upper-register dances or lower-register thunder-- and is abetted by conversational accompaniment for bassoon, cello, and glockenspiel....full text
DustedmagazineThe 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....full text
ThelineofbestfitBaby Dee‘s unconventional brand of instrumental is not what the average music fan might expect of songs entitled ‘Cowboys With Cowboy Hat Hair’ and ‘Coughing Up Cat Hair’. Classically absurd, is perhaps the best place to start with any attempt at ticking genre boxes.
With a track record of transformations – including a sex change and a stint as a fake hermaphrodite on Coney Island – the unpredictability of her sound is not so surprising. Latest release Regifted Light is a piano-led show of emotion, with hymn-like vocals gracing less than half of the album’s twelve tracks
It’s almost ten minutes before you hear a peep out of the performance artist, which creates a dramatically false sense of security. The playful piano arrangement gathers momentum on second track ‘Yapapipi’ and is optimistic and flighty enough to lift even the heaviest of hearts. In fact, at times the hectic pace is enough to raise the heart rate – not least on the 90-seconds of tumbling arpeggios that is the rollercoaster ride of ‘Coughing Up Cat Hair’. It’s difficult to doubt that Dee is drawing on anything less than actual experience with feline fur.
Similarly, ‘The Pie Song’ is two minutes of utter insanity and was clearly written in a delirious fit of hunger. It’s like classical music’s take on an Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry, but without the Edwardian restraint. It wouldn’t look at all out of place in a Jean Pierre Jeunet film, or perhaps as part of a 21st century take on Walt Disney’s Fantasia.
Fans of Antony and The Johnsons will be familiar with Baby Dee’s brand of oddity – in the past she’s arranged the strings and played the harp on her fellow NYC-based performer’s previous albums and beginners could be forgiven for confusing the two artists. It was Antony Hegarty who apparently passed Baby Dee’s tapes to Current 93′s David Tibet who chose to release them on his niche record label, Durto....full text
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