Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Rodriguez - Cold Fact (LP, Sussex)

The story of Sixto Rodriguez may seem like a mere footnote in the history of music, nonetheless it spans some four decades and multiple continents. Born in Detroit to Mexican immigrant parents his debut album, Cold Fact, was released in 1970 to a lukewarm response. His follow up, Coming From Reality, raised even less of a response and Rodriguez promptly disappeared. Well, not really - he went back to working in a factory.

Strangely enough this isn't the end of his story, but the beginning. Somehow, Cold Fact became a cult success in Australia, and more prominently in apartheid-era South Africa. So much so that for a period of time there were more copies of Cold Fact in South African record stores than in the USA.

For a record that's 40 years old, Cold Fact sounds surprisingly fresh and relevant. While not a lost masterpiece, one has to wonder how Rodriguez managed to escape wider recognition for so long. Rodriguez belongs to that category of artists that are not quite folk or folk-rock, but inspired by the genre. The only difference is that his lyrics are filtered through the prism of inner-city Detroit and not a coffee shop in the Village or London.

Opener "Sugar Man", a psychedelic plea to a drug dealer to "bring back all those colors to my dreams", surrounds a hypnotic vocal with a complex arrangement complete with horns, strings, and xylophone. The rest of the album consists of tracks whose lyrics are evocative yet hard to get a handle on even after repeated listenings, with song titles like "Hate Street Dialogue," "Inner City Blues" (not the Marvin Gaye tune), and "Crucify Your Mind". Through it all, Rodriguez has a commanding voice that is at once wise and completely unpretentious.

Rodriguez continues to tour South Africa & Australia, selling out 5,000-seat venues. Unfortunately, he's unlikely to repeat that success at home. Rodriguez is clearly a writer with a singular vision. Although it's impossible to rewind the clock 40 years and award iconic status retrospectively, he certainly deserves the acclaim.

Note: It's probably next to impossible to get the original pressing of this album on the Sussex label (catalogue no. 7012 for those who are interested). However, Light in the Attic have reissued both albums on vinyl.

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