5 stars/ out of 5
Originally published in Insite Magazine
By Greg Allard
Don’t doubt it, the Holy Grail of Rock has been found in the form of Sixto Rodriguez’s two lone LP’s dating back more than 40 years. The albums, Cold Fact (1970) and Coming Out of Reality (1971), have been dug out of the rubble of U.S. commercial obscurity in the form of the soundtrack for the recent film Searching For Sugar Man, but not before going to South Africa and helping to free a country from Apartheid without the artist’s knowledge.
Sound too amazing to be true? It is, except for the fact that it is true—truer than fiction could ever be to be believed. What’s even more amazing is the music itself—as good as the best music Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell or Neil Young has ever offered—and for any music aficionado, that’s even harder to believe—but just listen.
While Searching For Sugar Man represents less than half of the gems that the now 70-year-old Mexican-American from Detroit has recorded, it is a great place to start. Rodriguez, who quit music after he was dropped from his Sussex label in 1973, became a demolition man in Detroit’s inner city until he was “rediscovered” by South African music journalists who thought he had long ago committed suicide on stage, as it was rumored. What they discovered was a sagacious man with no regrets about being gypped by a music industry that never paid him a penny for the millions of records he sold overseas.
Many of these songs you will feel you have heard before, not because you have and not because they are derivative, but because they are in your rock ‘n’ roll DNA—that is if you have any musical soul.
There are no words that could possibly be strung together to give adequate accolades to the 14 tracks on the Searching For Sugar Man soundtrack. The lyrical content rivals Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell; the melodic intelligence makes one think of James Taylor, Jim Croce and Cat Stevens; and the soul of the music moves one like John Lennon’s music does.
While this album sounds in no way derivative, it certainly has its influences. The title track reminds one of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like Janis,” with its decree against a phony woman, has the biting sarcasm of “Positively 4th Street.”
“Establishment Blues,” was banned by the South African government and is the one that became the rallying hymn behind the anti-Apartheid movement.
Whether it’s a song about the struggles of the inner city, drug escapism, politics, or relationships, Rodriguez’s words are filled with the observational vision of a wise man. In “Crucify Your Mind” Rodriguez writes “And you claim you got something going, something you call unique/ But I’ve seen your self-pity showing, as the tears roll down your cheek.”
Some of the songs are very sad, like “Cause,” which was the last song on Rodriguez’s final album with Susex, “Coming Back From Reality.” It turned out to be eerily foreboding regarding the singer-songwriter’s being dropped from his label in December of 1973: “Cause I lost my job two weeks before Christmas/ And I talked to Jesus at the sewer and the Pope said it was none of his God-damned business.” And “While the rain drank champagne, my Estonian Archangel came and got me wasted/ Cause the sweetest kiss I’ve ever got is the one I’ve never tasted.”
Searching for Sugar Man is the kind of album where no song can be recommended above any other, except all of them should be heard over just some of them—and if you don’t go out and buy all of his recordings after you hear Searching For Sugar Man, then a large percentage of your musical life will certainly be wasted.
See an exclusive screening of the documentary, Searching for Sugar Man, Friday, September 28, 2012 at 7:00 PM at the Regal Butler Plaza Cinemas 14 in Gainesville, FL.