After the highly praised re-release of his 1970 debut Cold Fact, the latest instalment in the Rodriguez reissue programme continues with the release of the follow-up Coming From Reality by the Seattle-based Light In The Attic label.
Sixto Rodriguez has enjoyed a curious career. Largely ignored in his native America and Europe in the early ’70s, he enjoyed a revival in South Africa of all places although by the time this renaissance happened Rodriguez had given up his music career to pursue a regular job. After a brief revival in Australia in the late 70s he stayed away from music until his daughter prompted him to begin touring again in the late ’90s after discovering a number of websites dedicated to honouring his legacy.
For a man who explicitly set himself up as an anti-establishment singer-songwriter this all adds up to a strange rite of passage. There have been some excitable reviews of Rodriguez’s two studio albums by some magazines, who have thrown around comparisons to Skip Spence and Arthur Lee, the godheads of late 60s psych folk-rock.
Unsurprisingly, Rodriguez is not quite up there with Spence and Lee. There is a reason, after all, why his music was largely ignored for so long, and the unevenness of Coming From Reality spells it out large.
It is easy to see where the confusion starts. Coming From Reality opens with a stone-cold classic in the mould of the first album’s Sugar Man. Climb Up On My Music is a Nuggets-style psych rock curio that still sounds absolutely mesmerising almost 40 years later.
And then we move onto A Most Disgusting Song and the listener is hauled back into the early ’70s. ‘I’ve played every kind of gig there is to play now/I’ve played faggot bars, hooker bars, motorcycle funerals, opera houses, concert houses, halfway houses’ opines Rodriguez. This story-style song was nailed hook, line and sinker by Arlo Guthrie on Alice’s Restaurant in 1967, and Rodriguez adds absolutely zero to the genre. It’s quaint hearing such language in the 21st century, but that is about the sum of this track’s curiosity value.
The rest of Coming From Reality is a mixture of the sublime and ridiculous, and ultimately the album is far less compelling than Cold Fact. Hippy parables such as Heikki’s Surburbia Bus Tour, To Whom It May Concern, It Started Out So Nice and Sandrevan Lullaby were dated back in 1971 and sound even more ridiculous now, albeit the intricate production work of Chris Spedding (the album was recorded in England) retains some interest.
Despite some over-egged orchestral arrangements, it is tracks such as Think Of You, Silver Words and Cause that linger longest in the memory. The stream-of-consciousness lyrics on the latter actually connect in the current economic climate and indicate that Rodriguez was far more effective when he eschewed all the hippy nonsense and concentrated on his street stories.
Cause is reminiscent of Dion‘s solo work in the mid-’70s, and it is unfortunate that Rodriguez did not stick around long enough to pursue this alternative direction. Three bonus tracks appended to the original album mine a similar seam and reaffirm that Rodriguez had more to offer prior to his premature departure from the music scene.
A pick and mix ragbag of the good and bad, Coming From Reality is proof positive that reissues of supposed ‘undiscovered classics’ from the golden era of music should be treated suspiciously.