A review for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
By Steve Brooks
Cross the nonsense poetry of Edward Lear with the jazz balladry of Leon Redbone, and you'd come up with something like Dick Siegel. His buoyant, inscrutable silliness brings a light touch to the weightiest of subjects. Who else could turn an environmental manifesto into a rap song about cockroaches? Or a kiss-off song into a graphic description of love-making with an alligator?
While he's having his fun, though, Siegel engages your mind. This album opens with featherweight, finger-snapping fare like "Red" and "Happy," but quickly starts hinting at the tears of a clown. "The Secret" paints a love triangle in a few deft strokes while "I Gotta Cat" wonders how the peaceable pussy in his lap can go shredding small critters for the fun of it. Suddenly, the song changes, and you're watching Tom Brokaw turn the bombing of Iraq into home entertainment. Siegel's moral: "The fang and the claw/That old jungle law/We love to kill."
By the end of the album, he's pulling at your heart, as well. Three of the last four songs deal with mortality, from the time-slips-away humor of "Tic Toc," to the gospel-tinged "Someone's Crossing Over." Addressed to a grieving survivor, it's all the more powerful in its understated, voice-and-guitar arrangement.
If restraint is a strength in the closing pair of elegies, it's a weakness elsewhere. A handful of tunes have swinging arrangements, with clarinetist Stan Smith and trombonist Freddie Mendoza of Austin's Jazz Pharaohs. But missing, for the most part, are the wonderfully-wacky backup singing of the Na-Na's, the vocal duo that used to enliven Siegel's stage shows. Compare this album's version of "Heeby Beeby Boo" with the one on his last, live cassette, and you can hear how much energy was lost between the stage and the studio. "Angels Aweigh" is a fine appetizer for the uninitiated, and it may get Triple-A radio play, but for a full-course meal, track down "Dick Siegel Live." Or, better yet, see him on one of his swings out of Ann Arbor. You'll learn what it means to do the Heeby-Beeby-Boo.
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Copyright 1996, Three Rivers Folklife Society.
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