Warming to cold fact

Pub date November 19, 2008
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Now that we’re deep into November, I can safely announce my choice for 2008’s top reissue: Sixto Rodriguez’s scrumptiously echo-rippled psychedelic folk-soul delight Cold Fact (Sussex/Light in the Attic). Originally released in 1970 by Sussex, the album never made a big dent in the American countercultural consciousness. Though it feels like an underground classic on par with the finest from such visionaries as Love, relatively few got a chance to hear it when it first emerged. Based on what I’ve read, Sussex didn’t have much pull with FM underground radio — the try-anything format for which Rodriguez was best suited — and thus the singer-songwriter was never exposed to his greatest potential audience.

Sixto Rodriguez, “Sugarman” (video by Yellowcatz)

That’s a damn shame considering that Cold Fact‘s riveting combination of barbed social commentary, blazing stream-of-consciousness delivery, and shiver-down-the-spine vocal testimonials — often heightened by understated studio freak-out-ery — would have connected with listeners seeking another voice tapping into the darker side of the hippie dream. While very much a product of the ’60s, the recording speaks directly to the rising levels of disillusionment in America at the decade’s turn. For last-name-only Rodriguez, a reconciliation of the bright-eyed optimism of Flower Power with the grim realities of the late ’60s takes place in the form of teeth-gritting folk spiels and soul-stirring calls for social change that barely conceal a seething rage. To seal the deal, he delivers his lyrics with infinite cool, coming across as both aloof and strident within the turn of a phrase.

As for those songs, the immediacy of numbers like "Crucify Your Mind" and "Sugar Man" pulls your ears the quickest. For all of their psychedelic embellishments, these tunes are essentially the sound of one man laying it out over the simple strums of an acoustic guitar. Even decades into the folk-rock phenomenon, many of Rodriguez’s songs will likely hit first-time listeners with that revelatory "Wow, how come I’ve never heard this before?" feeling.

RODRIGUEZ Sun/23, 2 p.m., free. Amoeba Music, 2455 Telegraph, Berk. www.amoeba.com. Sun/23, 8 p.m., $17–$19. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com