For years, it seems, Paul Siebel has been playing hide and seek. The gifted songwriter first established himself in the early '70s with a number of finely crafted lyrics, later recorded by Bonnie Raitt, among others. Since then, though, Siebel's appearances have been almost as infrequent as his recordings -- which is to say, rare indeed.

His concert at the Cellar Door last night made his long absence from the stage seem all the more regrettable. Backed by just lead and bass guitars, he casually blended his own songs with those of Jimmie Rodgers and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The effect was quite revealing.

Like Rodgers, Siebel has a rather ordinary voice, but he draws the listener into his songs with his peculiar sense of phrasing. And, like Jefferson, his haunting imagery makes all his songs ring true. Although "If I Could Stay," "Pinto Pony" and "Chips Are Down" lacked the many instrumental flourishes found on the originals, Siebel's current backup is more than adequate.

Paula Lockhart opened the show with a delightful slice of Americana. Blues, ballads, jug band tunes, commercial jingles, even a campy novelty number from the pen of Leonard Bernstein were all rendered in her highly stylized and sultry manner. Both Siebel and Lockhart appear again tonight.