Like many people I discovered this enigmatic folk rock artist via the excellent documentary Searching For Sugar Man, which tells such an extraordinary tale that it hardly seems possible that it’s real (and truth be told the filmmakers did indulge in a bit of myth-making to make it even more unbelievable). Without giving away too much, I can say the following since the story is fairly well-known now: Detroit singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez (also better known as simply Rodriguez) released two Bob Dylan/Donovan-inspired folk rock albums in 1970 (Cold Fact) and 1971 (Coming From Reality). Both albums flopped in the U.S. and Rodriguez returned to a normal (and by all accounts extremely modest) life, all while unbeknownst to him this album was a smash in South Africa where he was a superstar, though no royalty checks came his way despite the many albums sold. See the truly heartwarming movie for the completion of the story; this is a review of Rodriguez’s first album, Cold Fact, which for the most part actually lives up to the hype of being a great “lost” album. Certainly knowing the background story can only increase one’s appreciation of it, but standing on its own this album is still an extremely impressive listen today. These generally short songs range from simple folk rock to more fleshed out baroque pop (he also reminds me a bit of Nick Drake at times) and even acidic garage rock (“Only Good For Conversation” sounds like The White Stripes 30 years before the fact!), with Rodriguez’s richly expressive voice always at the forefront in addition to his political, socially conscious lyrics. I mean, these are gritty yet poetic lyrics from a guy who lived on the mean streets of Detroit and who wrote about what he saw (song titles include “This Is Not A Song, It’s An Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues,” “Hate Street Dialogue,” and “Inner City Blues”), and if the music isn’t always as memorable, at its best, such as “Sugar Man,” an eerie, evocative “drug song,” “Crucify Your Mind,” on which I really like the hooky guitars and horns, and the catchy “I Wonder” (with the album’s most famous lyric: “I wonder how many times you’ve had sex”), this is some first-rate stuff. Producers Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, the latter best known for his guitar work on the psychedelic soul era of The Temptations, likely deserve some of the credit for the more fully arranged, more atmospheric songs here, but the star of the show is always Rodriguez, who for all the comparisons I’ve made ultimately has his own sound (his voice has a lot to do with that). It’s a pretty sad reflection of the music business that such a high quality album could get lost (outside of a few areas; he also had a following in Australia which the movie omits), but it’s also heartening when a guy gets his just due at long last, and now that it’s been found this album figures to be sticking around for quite a long time.
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