Sixto Rodriguez is the very definition of a cult star. As a Mexican folk singer playing the seedier strip clubs and dive bars in and around his hometown of Detroit, Michigan in the late 1960s, Rodriguez wasn't exactly a viable commercial commodity. His association with Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, the latter of which had ties with Motown, seemingly could have given him the inroad to success, but Impact, the label he recorded for at the time, wasn't in the business of promoting and selling an artist as left-of-center as Rodriguez. He recorded two records for the label, releasing his debut album Cold Fact in early 1970 to little if any exposure in America. A funny thing happened with Cold Fact as it traveled overseas however, as it became something of a rallying cry for the White South Africans living during the Apartheid movement, not to mention in Australia, where it was also met with widespread cultural acceptance. Until now though, Cold Fact had never seen release on CD in the States, instead circulating quietly between bootleggers of psychedelic folk and acoustic music.
If Rodriguez stood in opposition to the sounds of late 60s Detroit, which was knee deep in the proto-punk of The Stooges and the MC5, he still bore much in common with the bi-coastal folk movements of Greenwich Village and San Francisco. Armed with just an acoustic guitar, Rodriguez spit raw tales of urban decay, sexual passion and political disenchantment with a clear and forceful voice. His sound and lyrical acumen wasn't unlike Bob Dylan to be perfectly honest, but his sound was fully fleshed out in the studio by a cast of musicians including both Theodore and Coffey. This led to the infectious orchestration of Cold Fact opener (and should-have-been hit) "Sugar Man", as well as the fuzz guitar soloing of the following track "Only Good for Conversation". Rodriguez gets ample time to par things down considerably as well with the dual protest songs of "Hate Street Dialogue" and "This is Not a Song, It's an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues", the latter of which is almost a note for note rewrite of "Tombstone Blues". There's no reason any of these songs couldn't have become anti-establishment anthems in the Nixon-era, if only Impact had the means and Rodriguez the drive to peddle his life affirming music to willing listeners.
Time is known to correct mistakes and often times can rewrite history, and as a result Rodriguez has managed to sell out huge venues in both South Africa and Australia over the past few decades, where his records are textbook music knowledge right alongside his more renowned contemporaries. Thanks to the saviors at Light in the Attic (who are prepping a reissue of Cold Fact follow-up Coming From Reality for 2009), we here in the U.S. can now savor the cross-genre sounds of one of the era's most unique folk artists. Cold Fact is one of the few "lost classics" that actually deserves it title, and if there's any justice in the world, this reissue will run it's course for American audiences over the coming years, just as our more adventurous listeners across the Atlantic knew it could all those years ago.
Highlights: "Sugar Man", "This is Not a Song, It' an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues", "Hate Street Dialogue"
"This is Not a Song, It' an Outburst: Or, the Establishment Blues"