To do right by A Book of Songs for Anne Marie, the intriguing second LP by Baby Dee for Drag City, it’d be best to unload the Cleveland songwriter’s significant baggage asap: Baby Dee is the harpist and pianist on Drag City that is not Joanna Newsom, though both sing as if they delight in discovering new corners and nuances of their own voice. Baby Dee is also the transgender singer that is not her longtime collaborator, Antony Hegarty, though both write with a wonderfully transcendental trust in the way love can reshape our world. And, lastly, Baby Dee is not her mentor and collaborator David Tibet, though her contributions to his Current 93 have been profound and, as she puts it, Tibet was the “patient and forgiving surrogate father” to these dozen Songs.
Songs arrives more than six years in the making, and it’s the sort of record that– both for its enchanting arrangements and its presiding theme of using love to fend off evil, sadness, or, at the very least, darkness and cold– should finally help Dee earn notice equal to that of her contemporaries. The title was originally given to a batch of seven quickly recorded tunes released in 2004 on Tibet’s Durtro label. All of those numbers survive here, but they’re reinvented by a six-member chamber ensemble that includes producer and arranger Maxim Moston. His violin playing– a perfect mix of frailty and humor– is a delicate foil for Dee’s vocals, while the band’s horns and strings web around her harp to form its perfect bed. A French horn, for instance, peeks from behind the harp’s bass note on “Endless Night”, adding a spotlight to each of Dee’s epiphanies. In her hopefulness, broken words find usefulness, and bastard children earn redemption. “Love is stronger than death/ More jealous than the tomb,” she vows one track later, sending the words ahead of her stop-and-start harp, a shield taking the lead into the world’s battles.