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Album review: Rodriguez's 'Searching for Sugar Man'

July 26, 2012|By Randy Lewis
  • The 'Searching for Sugar Man' documentary traces the career of 1970s singer-songwriter Rodriguez.
The 'Searching for Sugar Man' documentary traces the career… (Sony Legacy / Light in the…)

“Searching for Sugar Man”

Rodriguez

Sony Legacy / Light in the Attic Records

3 stars (out of 4)

Singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez was an obscure name on American soil, but he unknowingly became a major pop star in South Africa when his psychedelic soul recordings made their way out of 1970s Detroit and were later adopted as protest anthems by anti-apartheid youths. Now, he and his work are the subject of a hit film-festival documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man,” and the movie’s soundtrack.

The recordings, off two albums and a few track sessions, prove Rodriguez to be a gifted songwriter with a penchant for lyrical flourishes influenced by Bob Dylan, and echoing Van Morrison’s jazz-rock-soul masterpiece, “Astral Weeks.” Recited in spoken-word form, many of his sociopolitical songs would make potent rap tracks today -- it’s tantalizing to imagine Eminem taking on “Sandrevan Lullaby-Lifestyles.” Motown session musician Dennis Coffey’s production adds strings, horns and percussion in with Rodriguez’s acoustic guitar and voice. At times, it recalls another great Latin soul singer-songwriter of the period, Jose Feliciano.

Rodriguez and his music didn’t get their due back in the day, but now at 70, he’s embarking on tours with Morrison and the Kinks’ Ray Davies and making the rounds of late-night TV talk shows. It appears that Rodriguez has gotten his chance after all.

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