When I first heard about Rodriguez, I assumed the comparisons to Bob Dylan were lazy, it seems in mainstream journalism that any artist that does a bit of social commentary and was around in the late 60s gets lumped into this category, likewise more recent black rockers are often dubbed 'the new Hendrix'. Dylan, perhaps due to his popularity has never really appealed greatly to me but Rodriguez did, particularly once I heard his tale.
Cold Fact was his debut album, released back in 1970 with no data on band members, the album flopped in the US, as did the follow-up album, no doubt owing to the fact that the band were almost unknown in their home country. Rodriguez called it a day but in the mean time, Cold Fact had become a must have album in South Africa and Australia. Thousands of albums were being sold and it is said that in every middle class white South African's record family you could find a copy of Cold Fact alongside Neil Young's Harvest. The artist was none the wiser to his success abroad. Born in Detroit to Mexican parents, Sixto Rodriguez had become a cult musician and was thought to be dead, rumours abound about what had happened to him. Well in his 50s and working as a manual labour on a building site, his daughter discovered a website dedicated to him in the late 90s, by then the album had gone 5 x platinum in Australia, a complete surprise to Rodriguez.
Nice story, but can the music match the tale? Well I think it can. Rodriguez's songs vary in style but overall he has a rather suave sound that is somewhat contradicted by the lyrical content. Rather like Lou Read's "Transformer" album, "Cold Fact" manages to make songs about drugs, mafia and sex sound almost like lullabies. There's a slight similarity to Jim Croce when it comes to Rodriguez's vocals ("Crucify Your Mind" and "Inner City Blues" in particular) but the lyrics are often short and snappy rhymes that really are hard to compare to anyone. The best example of this can be found on "Establishment Blues" where the artist races through a list of observations that are still relevant 42 years on. "Sugar Man" has the lullaby quality I mentioned earlier, a track about a person who doesn't like city life and uses his drug dealers offerings to escape it. It's quite a slow moody song to start the album off on, although it's widely considered his signature tune, it's not my favourite. I love the deep bass lines and twangy guitar riffs of "Only Good For Conversation", not completely sure what all the cryptic 60s street slang lyrics mean but it's certainly one of the liveliest numbers on the album.
"Hate Street Dialogue" is very funky with a latin sounding start followed by a really fuzzy guitar, great percussion and has a very catchy chorus to boot, "I've tasted hate street's hanging trees." "Forget It" is all brass and strings and sounds like an old-fashioned love song. "I Wonder" a song from a bitter ex-boyfriend's point of view has another tasty bass line, it's catchy and it's lyrics were pretty racy at the time of release. You can just imagine someone spitting out their wine to the words "I wonder how many times you've had sex." Next up is "Jane S. Piddy", the closest song on the album to a Bob Dylan one in my opinion, the lyrics are written and sung in a very similar manner. "Gomorrah (A Nursery Rhyme)" really does sound like a nursery rhyme, there's something sinister and a little scary about children singing the chorus, the lyrics are good and overall it's a song that really works. It's a sort of evil version of the "Candy Man" if you like. I'm not a big fan of "Rich Hoax" but I can't put my finger on why not, likewise the last track "Like Janis" is not one of my favourites. It's not that there's anything wrong with them, it's just that they are not as good as the earlier tracks.
Overall it's a great album, that's not particularly well known outside of South Africa or Australia and is definitely worth checking out.