It just occurred to me that my review of this record will be my first review of a record first released before the new millennium, and what better way to mark this event with Rodriguez’s under-appreciated folk masterpiece Cold Fact. I’ll get this review underway by stating facts – this album is a forgotten masterpiece, and Sixto Rodriguez ranks alongside Bob Dylan and John Lennon as one of the greatest lyric writers of all time. Rodriguez should be remembered as the grandfather of the psychedelic folk genre (freak folk, new weird America, psych folk, whatever you want to call it.)
Now, as English teachers everywhere will tell you, a proper understanding of the context is needed to fully understand the text. Rodriguez was, at the time, a weird character. He regularly played with his back to the audience and never played in regular venues (usually strip clubs, gay bars, biker hangouts, etc). He released two albums, one in 1970 (Cold Fact), and one in 1971 (Coming From Reality) – after very poor US sales, he was dropped from his label, and gave up on his dreams of becoming a musician. He had no idea that Cold Fact had become a cult hit in Australia and South Africa. His international fans had no idea who he was or where he was from, making the name Rodriguez something of an enigma. Many fans believed that he had committed suicide on stage after performing the song “Forget It”. His records were near impossible to get a hold of, with his popularity spreading from record sharing and word of mouth. In 1979, he discovered that he was loved in Australia, and toured in 1979 and 1981 (supported by the then-unknown local band Midnight Oil), before disappearing again.
It wasn’t until 1998 that Rodriguez discovered his fame in South Africa, when his daughter discovered a website devoted entirely to him. In SA, he was admired with a Beatles-like reverence, with the South African troops treating Rodriguez as US troops treated Jimi Hendrix. His first tour there, in 1998, saw him welcomed with thousands of screaming fans, many who believed him dead. In 2008, Cold Fact was re-released due to great demand, followed by his second (and so far final) record Coming From Reality in 2009.
Anyway. There’s an overview of Rodriguez’s story. So what makes this record so amazing? It’s everything. The lyrics are honest, frank, scathing, and still relevant 40 years after the record’s initial pressing. Musically, the album is beautifully simple. Rodriguez’s tinny guitar fits the record perfectly, with the rest of the instruments added around his guitar. It’s obvious that the producers had trouble working around Rodriguez’s awkward time and metre changes throughout his songs, but somehow, they pulled it off.
From the epic, psychedelic opener “Sugar Man” to the sublime closer “Like Janis”, Rodriguez sings about the poor, the working class, and the current – even if his current is now fourty years ago, Cold Fact is just as relevant now. How he pulled it off, I don’t know, but Cold Fact is a work of art that really should be heard by everyone.
Choice tracks: Sugar Man; Crucify Your Mind; Forget It; I Wonder; Jane S. Piddy
If you like: Devendra Banhart; Bob Dylan; Elliott Smith