Even after the breakthrough success of the Will Oldham-helmed Safe Inside the Day, there is still a tendency to regard Baby Dee as a novelty act. There’s the harp, for one, and her uniquely formal approach to her music. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of Baby Dee’s life story, which, in the tradition of many great artists, is infinitely more complex than anything she’s recorded. On A Book of Songs For Anne Marie, her follow-up to Safe Inside the Day, Baby Dee has to show that her art can exist independent of others’ patronage.
The result is something of a push, as A Book of Songs for Anne Marie actually predates Safe Inside the Day. The collection was originally issued as combination book-and-compact-disc set, but the limited print run made it all but unobtainable. If nothing else, A Book of Songs for Anne Marie is a boon for Baby Dee completists. This of course says nothing about the quality of the music. Being able to buy something isn’t quite the treat when the product is inferior. The fact that A Book of Songs for Anne Marie never found a larger audience could indicate that someone smells money but lacks product, or that Baby Dee is finally leveraging a little good fortune to unleash a pet project on unsuspecting audiences.
A cursory listen to A Book of Songs For Anne Marie is enough to assuage all concerns. While not as immediately arresting as Safe Inside the Day, the album builds from near silence into a series of small codas that contain unique pleasures. There are no singles here in the traditional sense, and the narrative of the songs is often lost beneath layers of harp and Baby Dee’s inflection. Even with these factors working against it, A Book of Songs for Anne Marie is a powerful, original album and, given its unassuming nature, possibly the perfect follow-up to her high-profile breakthrough. Baby Dee might exist at the fringes of the music community, but the pureness of her approach indicates her power as an artist.