Rob Siegel,
Voices from the Right Brain:
Live at Club Passim

(Rural Electrification, 2004)

I surrender. I've listened to the album a dozen times, read the lyrics, visited the website. I just can't make sense of Rob Siegel's Voices from the Right Brain.

At times, Voices from the Right Brain seems to be trying for earnest social commentary. "In the Song" and "Half Off Our Rocker" are delivered with passion and a surprising bitterness that suits Siegel's voice not at all. But they're also confusing, seemingly pointless word games, heavy on metaphors and short on direction. "The Point of No Return" tries to invite speculation on moral ambiguity, but hobbles itself with a story that offers little uncertainty.

Musically, Voices stays in folksy Siegel-songwriter territory, with a few notable experiments towards rock, spoken word and even modernism. Siegel has an earthy, modest voice that unfortunately can't perform all the vocal gymnastics he asks of it in his more bombastic numbers. The instrumental arrangements are very well done and add interest to even the strangest songs, but Siegel's dominating voice provides the real unifying sound of the album.

Voices from the Right Brain is most accessible when it speaks directly through humor. "Shaker Chair" is a straightforward conversation between pieces of furniture and a nicely understated commentary on modern life. "Social Intercourse" uses a childish glee in euphemistic naughtiness to cover a harsh portrayal of alienation and personal awkwardness. "I Met Myself" is a wry journey of personal discovery that dares to pit present against nostalgic past and favor the present, while playing some very clever games with the progression of narrative musical arrangements.

Humor makes Siegel's songs more accessible, even when they're dominated by other emotions. "Why Do I Still Remember You?" is a touching look at the unswept halls of the brain, told with enough self-awareness to be sweet instead of painful. "To the God I Don't Believe In" carries much of the angry delivery heard in "In the Song" but is more directly tongue-in-cheek, and thereby succeeds better both as humor and protest.

I'm not willing to dismiss Voices from the Right Brain as a bad album. Those songs I understand are so enjoyable that I'm sure my confusion throughout the rest of the album is my loss and not his. But my loss it must remain; whatever quirk of character is required to fully appreciate Voices from the Right Brain, I don't have it. But those willing and able to hear Siegel's message may indeed find something special in the song. I wish them, and him, luck.

by Sarah Meador
26 November 2005

[ visit the artist's website ]