In the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, director Malik Bendjelloul looks back at two music fans' quest in the early '90s to learn the fate of '70s singer/songwriter Rodriguez (born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez to Mexican immigrant parents in Detroit), musically accompanied by the Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack that collects tracks from his two ...
In the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, director Malik Bendjelloul looks back at two music fans' quest in the early '90s to learn the fate of '70s singer/songwriter Rodriguez (born Sixto Diaz Rodriguez to Mexican immigrant parents in Detroit), musically accompanied by the Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack that collects tracks from his two albums. Growing up in South Africa, record retailer Stephen "Sugar" Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew had a very different relationship with Rodriguez than folks in his native U.S.; while debut Cold Fact and follow-up Coming from Reality (released on the short-lived Sussex label in 1970 and 1971, respectively) attracted critical praise from the few press outlets they reached, commercially they went nowhere, seemingly dooming the artist to obscurity. But against all odds, a bootleg recording of Cold Fact made its way to South Africa, just as the stronghold of apartheid was growing, and Rodriguez's anti-establishment storytelling, filtered through a psychedelia-tinged folk-rock lens, connected deeply with black Africans as well as liberal young Afrikaners. As word of mouth about the singer/songwriter spread, he became a South African sensation (naturally helped along when the government banned his records), eventually going not just platinum but also finding listeners holding him in the same artistic esteem as Bob Dylan and the Beatles. It wasn't until the late '90s that the artist -- rumored to have committed suicide years before -- would learn of his overseas fame, sparking a string of live dates abroad and awakening stateside interest. The Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack rolls together songs from Cold Fact (featuring kaleidoscopic production by Dennis Coffey and Mike Theodore) and Coming from Reality, focusing on the most iconic songs in the Rodriguez discography, not only showing that the lyrics resonate decades later but reminding listeners of the transformative power of music. Signature song and nickname "Sugar Man," which listeners may recognize as being sampled by Nas and Large Professor, is a piercing ode to drugs that elevates its simple lyrics with a trippy arrangement, opening with percussive, flamenco-like guitar and spacy Moog, and swelling with paranoid strings before drifting out to the ether. Conversely "I Think of You," which also reached audiences decades later thanks to a cover by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., shows Rodriguez's romantic side as he breezily reflects on a sweetheart. But his bread and butter are gritty tales of city life, whether calling out the signs of social corruption ("Gun sales are soaring, housewives find life boring/Divorce the only answer, smoking causes cancer/The system's gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune/And that's a concrete cold fact") with "This Is Not a Song, It's an Outburst: Or, The Establishment Blues"; encountering runaways on the side of the road on "Inner City Blues" (his own composition, not to be confused with the Marvin Gaye song); or verbally eviscerating hipsters at a dive bar in the Arthur Lee-meets-"Rocky Raccoon"-styled "A Most Disgusting Song." Three bonus tracks that Rodriguez recorded with Coffey and Theodore in 1972 and which first appeared on the At His Best bootleg, including the vibrantly orchestrated artistic autobiography "Can't Get Away," are also collected here. Whether moved by the documentary or simply interested in a one-disc anthology of Rodriguez's work, the Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack is a thoughtfully curated celebration of this devastatingly underrated artist. ~ Chrysta Cherrie, Rovi