Rodriguez - Searching for Sugar Man, Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Light in the Attic/Legacy)

In advance of film doc, the Sixto's tracks sizzle

Jul 25, 2012 at 12:00 am

The big-buzz doc Searching for Sugar Man doesn't open locally until next week, but the soundtrack is out as of July 24. It's a compelling introduction to the work of Sixto Diaz Rodriguez even absent the context of his story or its full details. The bare outline: Motown sessionman Dennis Coffey discovers a gritty Cass Corridor Dylan in the late '60s, leading to two discs, zero career traction and four decades of scuffling obscurity in this country. Meanwhile, the first discs become underground, bootleg classics in, of all places, South Africa, and eventually a platinum-seller there, leading to a rediscovery back home, now boosted by the film. The Sugar Man soundtrack culls 14 tracks from the debut Cold Fact (recorded in Detroit in 1970) and its successor, Coming From Reality (recorded in England a year later), plus three orphan tracks from 1972-73 sessions. Somehow, even when strings and horns are draped around his voice and guitar, there's a direct-to-the-listener insistence in his work. The songs are so powerful that, notwithstanding the story of how he's finally captured an audience, it's hard not to wonder why these musical spells didn't work when chanted the first time. Did the echoes of the Dylan circa 1965 seem passé? This was the era of the singer-songwriters epitomized by James Taylor and Carole King, far gentler troubadours. And while Rodriguez has his touching ballads, he also has his riffs about playing "faggot bars, hooker bars and motorcycle funerals." And with all the lovers' roundelays related in the songs of the time, who else was as frank as to sing: "I wonder how many times you've had sex / And I wonder do you know who'll be next." Did programmers figure they already had a Hispanic singer-guitarist in the far more dynamic José Feliciano? Conversely, was it Rodriguez's back-to-the-audience indifference as a performer that doomed him? Or was it just a case of audience fickleness that might have been turned around with another album or two — or with one DJ angel willing to stick out his or her neck on just one of these cuts? Director Malik Bendejelloul's doc can't help but shed some light and propose some answers (and MT film writer Corey Hall will be writing about the movie next week). In the meantime, the soundtrack stands on its own with its haunting questions.