Coming from Reality

May 13, 2009 at 12:00 am

Artists have an entire life to create their first album ... and then a year or less to make their second. Or so goes the old cliché. It's sometimes called the sophomore jinx. There are exceptions, as there are to every rule. But I'm disappointed to report that Rodriguez's second album — which the Detroit singer-songwriter recorded in England in 1971 with producer Steve Rowland — isn't one of them.

Rodriguez's debut album, Cold Fact, which was rereleased by Light in the Attic last year, was one of that year's greatest musical revelations and surely one of the very best discs released in 2008. A pop-blues-soul-rock masterpiece, it brought to mind classic psychedelic Dylan and Donovan, if both were slightly more damaged. Part of the problem with Coming from Reality is Rowland's hippie-dippy and now-dated production — with out-of-place strings all over songs — which was opposite the stark beauty achieved by Dennis Coffey on the debut wonder.

But Rodriguez's songs are also a lot less about the pop here — and what sounded profound before, like lyrical mad genius, now sometimes sounds like devolved psychedelic non sequiturs. "A Most Disgusting Song" is sort of a seedier thematic predecessor to Billy Joel's "Piano Man" (the first line's reference to "faggot bars" probably dates the disc as well) and somewhat interesting as an obscure curio. But the two love tunes that follow just kinda drone, as does the lyrically dire "Cause" ("I talked to Jesus at the sewer, and the Pope said it was none of his goddamn business"), which, curiously, was originally the album's closer.

That isn't to say it's all a waste. Opening song, "Climb up on My Music," is a guitar-driven (by none other than the great Chris Spedding) melodic and funky powerhouse jam, although its acid-tinged "my songs will set you free" refrain reminds me that there was a thin line between the musicians of that day and Charles Manson, who — those who were there will tell you — wasn't a bad musical artist himself. And "Halfway up the Stairs" is a pure pop delight, sorta reminiscent of Jim Croce at his very best and a song that would've been suitable cover material for the Turtles or some major pop band then. But those goddamn strings ...

If you loved Cold Fact, you should certainly check this out. And when an album was one's favorite the previous year, as the debut was for me ... well, it's hard to compete with that. But if you're unfamiliar with Rodriguez, then you need to get Cold Fact. Like five minutes ago. It's a classic and a true marvel that something so good could be under the radar for so long.

Bill Holdship is the music editor of Metro Times Send comments to [email protected].