If Sixto Rodriguez had come up in today’s all-knowing digital landscape, where WordPress junkies salivate at the chance to break the next “it” act, it’s likely the Detroit singer-songwriter’s story would be bland; he’d wind up opening for Dave Matthews. Thankfully though, as director Malik Bendjelloul recounts in his fascinating documentary Searching for Sugar Man, Rodriguez’s two albums, 1970′s Cold Fact and ’71s Coming From Reality, were commercial duds. So the man sank into obscurity only to have his street-poet folk achievements, colored with visions of social upheaval, achieve a major following in apartheid-eraSouth Africa, subsequently spurring a second life in the past decade.
Sugar Man‘s soundtrack offers no new insights. Rather, it succeeds at washing away any dull spots in Rodriguez’s discography. The arrangements, courtesy of Motown vets Mike Theodore and Dennis Coffey, are spare, yet highly effective. “Crucify My Mind” and “Inner City Blues” walk with a cool-headed strut; “Cause,” is a lilting acoustic sewer hymn. But it’s the now-70-year-old’s ability to relate to his listener that keeps his low-burning flame alive during decade-long blackouts. “If you listen, maybe you’ll see somebody you know in this song,” he preaches on the spoken-word observation “A Most Disgusting Song.”