Author: Bruce Jenkins Date Posted:5 March 2021
There was a time when any up-and-coming socially-minded singer-songwriter attracted the label of “the new Dylan”. It’s hard to know whether a comparison with Bob was a blessing or a curse. Take, for example, the case of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez. Born of immigrant Mexican parents, the singer dropped his first two given names and performed under the banner of his surname… but not before releasing an early single as Rod Riguez!
Rodriguez recorded two fine albums for the small Sussex label, toured Australia twice, scored a hit LP in South Africa with the Australian compiled “At His Best” and pretty much retired from music. Oh, except for a live album—recorded Down Under—that will set you back a truckload of cash to secure.
Rodriguez had a surprising but well-deserved second coming a few years back with the release of the documentary “Searching for Sugarman”. It was an interesting film, despite frustrating Australian fans who knew him back then and never forgot.
So what of the studio albums? Both are very good, but the first one is probably just a little sharper. There is a freshness to both songs and singer that reaches across more than five decades and still packs a punch. Although Rodriguez’ voice is not especially powerful, the commitment and intensity remains most engaging. His observations are pointed; there is a slug of anger, a dash of outrage, and a pinch of despair. Everything, in fact, you’d expect from a child of poor migrants struggling to escape urban squalor in the land of the free.
Yet there is no way this record could be dismissed as a ‘downer’.
Yes, a line like “Garbage ain’t collected, women aren’t protected” hits home, but mainly because so little has changed since 1970. Yes, opening track “Sugar Man” is about seeking your drug dealer to buy some escape from reality, but the tune is catchy and the psychedelic lyrics of the refrain beautiful (in a slightly scary way).
“I wonder” is another standout song, its infectious loping rhythm a counterpoint to the relentless questioning of the lyric.
'I wonder how many times you’ve been had
And I wonder how many plans have gone bad
I wonder how many times you’ve had sex
And I wonder do you know who’ll be next
I wonder I wonder, wonder I do'
Tough, certainly, but the wondering is about why we don’t push towards our better selves, look after each other and the planet better, and try to be a little kinder. Rodriguez’ lyrics are pointed, at times confronting; he presents cold hard facts that absolutely should give us a shake. But he does so with compassion as well as anger. At the end of the day, there is nothing cold about this fine debut album. It glows with the pulse of humanity and and cuts with the intensity of a poets clear-eyed vision. If you don’t know Sixto Rodriguez, check out “Cold Fact”.
© Bruce Jenkins 2021