Reality Comes Back - at Last!
Richard B. Luhrs | Jackson Heights, NY United States | 05/29/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You could say that the good news is the bad news concerning this long-overdue reissue, since with its release the entire recorded output of Detroit singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez is available to the public for the first time in over thirty-five years. That output consists of exactly two albums - 1970's COLD FACT and this 1971 follow-up - as well as three additional songs recorded later and first released many years after that. Not much of a catalogue, especially for one of the most unique and worthwhile songsmiths of the past four decades.
I've already touched on the mystery of Rodriguez - which, thanks to the extensive liner notes in these reissues, is no longer that much of a mystery - in my review of FACT, so I'll refer the curious to that nonpareil gem of musical criticism and get right down to brass tacks. COMING from REALITY is a fully worthy successor to FACT, with all of its creator's dizzying wordplay and compositional acumen intact, but it's also a very different album in many respects. Recorded in London with British session musicians and a full string section, REALITY inhabits a separate sonic territory from that of its Motor City predecessor. It's also a good deal less eclectic, which helps to enhance its "album feel" but also casts its weaker moments in sharper relief - not that there are all that many of them.
"Climb Up on My Music" is a tough, driving opener, instantly establishing that blown-glass balance of pop accessibility and esoteric intelligence which has always distinguished the greatest songwriters. "A Most Disgusting Song" is in fact a spoken poem (Proto-rap?) of deceptively humorous twists, while "And I Think of You" is one of Rodriguez's most affecting ballads, a lost love tale equal in its naked sentiment and plausibility to FACT's brief, brilliant "Forget It." "Heikki's Suburbia Bus Tour" brings on the social commentary which dominates the latter half of REALITY in its surreal story of middle America remade as a tourist attraction. "Silver Words?" is a lightweight love song, cute enough but probably a bit too happy for its own good.
Side two of the original LP opens with "Sandrevan Lullabye - Lifestyles," Rodriguez's longest track and a beautifully bitter assault on society's failures effectively sandwiched between two heavily orchestrated instrumental sections. "To Whom It May Concern" is the "snap out of it" tune on this collection, and like most such numbers it doesn't add terribly much. "It Started Out So Nice," however, is powerful stuff, juxtaposing a mythical yesterday of poetic prettiness against the dashed hopes of the present with the aid of a lovely and unintrusive string backing. "Halfway Up the Stairs" is pure fluff, but its mindless positivity almost makes sense as a prelude and first aid kit for "'Cause," Rodriguez's lyrical magnum opus and the most sublimely realized rumination on the very real horrors of human existence you're ever likely to hear. This song makes "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" sound like "Old MacDonald" and closes REALITY with nothing whatsoever left to say.
Not on this CD, however. The final fragments of Rodriguez's musical oeuvre have been appended to his final album for this release, and the listener benefits greatly as a result. Recorded in 1972 or '73 (presumably as the kernel of a planned third album which, like the man's work en toto, was regrettably nipped in the bud), "Can't Get Away," "Street Boy" and "I'll Slip Away" are all winners, the first continuing the episodic social criticism of earlier songs but with a more personalized slant; the second a tuneful, undramatized portrait of a lost soul; and the last a clever farewell number in the best Rodriguez fashion - first class all the way.
Where COLD FACT enjoys that peculiar perfect beauty which only pure accident can achieve, COMING from REALITY makes a concerted effort to be beautiful; and while it succeeds much of the time - resulting in several tracks which are, if anything, stronger than even FACT's best material - there's no denying that it's the patchier half of the pair overall. Nevertheless, "'Cause" and the bonus tracks easily elevate this disc to five-star status, as does the sheer inescapable quality of the artist. I cannot possibly recommend both Rodriguez albums highly enough to anyone reading this. The chance to grab the complete works of a man whose music can comfortably rub shoulders with that of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or Bruce Springsteen in two easy purchases is not one to be missed. We are all the poorer for the long and storied career Sixto Rodriguez should have had; but we are certainly the richer for having what little there was of that career within reach once again."
The cold fact is that
Xtian Thomas | 05/31/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"'Cold Fact' is much better. I wanted to love this album, I really did. I wanted to go to it and have it be something special from a bygone era. As it is, though, if you're curious, go for a cheap copy (maybe slightly worn or used) and satisfy your curiosity. It's still better than a lot of stuff (read: tuneful and well put together), but it's not a capital 'G' great album.
"Heikke's Suburbia Bus Tour" is one standout track as well as the first track, but it lacks the basic diversity that made Cold Fact so much fun.
Then again, the dude only put out two albums before retreating into his hermetic existence (I read that he doesn't even have a phone), so when you DO get Cold Fact, you'll be piqued about this one. I have too much ambivalence to tell you whether to get this or not, but you can use my ambivalence (hopefully) as a guide to decide whether or not to get it.
Finding a cheap copy would be the best way to do it - I'm probably ambivalent because I paid almost full price to get it when it came out and it didn't have front-to-back 'oooo' moments. The first song on Cold Fact was "Sugarman" and I'd heard it enough times to be excited when Cold Fact got reissued, and I was looking forward to this one getting reissued as well, but it doesn't have the same nostalgic feel as Cold Fact does - or maybe it does and my scope of musical references isn't broad enough, but it just doesn't get me there.
I give it 3 stars because the musicianship is still high-quality and you can play it for anyone without having to turn it down or skip tracks, maybe on 'random' with a good assortment of other CDs at a party.
0 out of 1 people found the earlier review helpful, so I decided to write more about it - hopefully this'll do ya.
p.s. I'm glad the dude is getting another chance and hopefully he'll get back into the studio to make another great one."
Second great album
E. Esquivel | LA, CA | 06/15/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"more poppy and happy sounding than his first album; but altogether classic cuts from a master poet"