Nov 092012

In the Spotlight showcases a cross-section of an artist’s cover work. View past installments, then post suggestions for future picks in the comments!

One of the best-reviewed documentaries of 2012 has been Searching for Sugar Man, the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter who was fast forgotten in America and became a legend half a world away. Rodriguez released two albums – 1970′s Cold Fact and 1971′s Coming From Reality – that didn’t sell, and his label dropped him. He vanished like a breeze, not knowing that in South Africa, he was becoming bigger than Elvis; Cold Fact sold more than half a million copies in a nation of 40 million. Two fans there decided to find out what happened to him, what became of him, and how he died; the film follows them as they make discovery after discovery.

While Rodriguez may have ceded the spotlight long before the world thought to turn it on him, his songs have never sought out the shadows. They’ve been out there a long time, converting listener after listener. Some of those listeners have even come out with their own versions…

MP3: David Holmes Presents the Free Association – Sugar Man (Rodriguez cover)
The Free Association is a side project of DJ/producer/film scorer David Holmes. He’s recorded several versions of Cold Fact‘s opening track, “Sugar Man”; this one features Petra Jean Phillipson singing, and together they nail the haunting, edging-toward-nightmare feel of the original.

MP3: Ken Boothe – Silver Words (Rodriguez cover)
Rodriguez’s songs have lent themselves very well to reggae arrangements, due in part to their eternal immediacy and their troubled yet optimistic viewpoint, both hallmarks of the best reggae songs. Ken Boothe’s version of “Silver Words” turned sweet acoustic into itchy skank so successfully that other reggae artists covering it assigned Boothe the writing credits. Lawyers, have at it…

MP3: Nick Hoge – I Wonder (Rodriguez cover)
The Cold Fact version of “I Wonder” has a huge, unforgettable bass line. This Soundcloud cover has nothing but an acoustic and a voice, and the wonder is how little that bass line is missed – just another indication of how strong the song as a whole is. (If you liked this, feel free to check out Nick Hoge’s other Soundcloud songs.)

MP3: Dennis Coffey – Only Good for Conversation (Rodriguez cover)
Motown guitar legend Dennis Coffey deserves a great deal of credit for introducing Rodriguez to the world the first time around; not only did he play on Cold Fact, he co-produced and co-arranged it as well. Four decades later, he’s still playing with the power of a man one-third his age; check out his cover of Rodriguez’s “Only Good for Conversation,” with Paolo Nutini handling mic duty, on 2011′s self-titled album.

MP3: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – I Think of You (Rodriguez cover)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. celebrated this year’s Record Store Day by releasing the EP We Almost Lost Detroit, a collection of three remixes and three covers by musicians from their hometown. It’s an eclectic handful – Gil Scott-Heron and Madonna both figure – but their cover of Rodriguez’s “I Think of You” is arguably the highlight. It conveys all the romance of the original, and is as light and sweet as a tuft of pollen-dusted down.

Sugarman.org is the official Rodriguez website. For the official site for the documentary Searching for Sugar Man, click here. As for the soundtrack, you can get that on iTunes or Amazon.

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2 Responses to “In the Spotlight: Rodriguez”

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  1. Wicked Mike says:

    Even in the Nineties, when i was a young adult, Rodriguez was still the most popular folk singer in my country of South Africa. Whichever bar you walked into, drunk people would sing his songs as anthems when the DJ or radio played it. He is part of our culture.

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