CD reviews, April 2013

It's been a while since I reviewed anything here -- life keeps getting in the way -- but I figured I could fit some quick reviews into my time constraints. The goal is to do this once monthly, and I'll start with a couple of things I got to a bit late but are worth commenting on.

Rodriguez, Searching for Sugar Man (Original Motion Picture Soundrack) (Sony Legacy, 2012): Detroit folksinger Sixto Rodriguez fell straight through the cracks in his home country, but thanks to bootlegging he had developed a big following among apartheid opponents in South Africa. The movie (which gets an A+ simply for telling an amazing story that happens to be entirely true) tells how a pair of South African music journalists tried to find any information on what happened to him, ultimately found out that he was still alive, and brought him to South Africa to do some shows. The scene in the film where Rodriguez gets wildly cheered by an audience he never knew he had, and the audience gets to embrace a much-loved performer whom they had assumed for decades was dead, is as poignant as cinema gets. The music from the film comes mainly from Rodriguez's two studio albums Cold Fact (1970) and Coming from Reality (1971), but includes a couple of previously un-released songs from that era as well. Perhaps his best music doesn't match the best protest songs of Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs, but the simple fact that Rodriguez deserves to mentioned in the same sentence as the elite folk singers of that era makes his complete obscurity unfathomable. This soundtrack shows that Rodriguez had a number of really good songs whose power and relevance have not diminished in the four decades since they were written. To name one example, the song "Cause" is a product of inner-city Detroit in the early seventies, but the lines about corporate bosses taking home their bonus pay after exploiting their employees, or the powers that be giving a medal to replace a woman's son, still hit the mark today. It should never have taken a documentary so long after the fact to give Rodriguez an audience in this country, but at least we have the opportunity now to hear and appreciate some very worthy music. Overall grade: A

Mumford & Sons, Babel (Glass Note, 2012): When I reviewed their 2009 debut CD Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons struck me as an OK band that would appeal to fans of The Pogues. Now that their follow-up Babel has sold over 2 million copies in the U. S. and won a grammy for Album of the Year, I think it's safe to say that I underestimated their ability to connect with mainstream audiences. I had been somewhat critical of the first CD for their over-reliance on dramatic shifts of mood and tempo in the middle of each song, and even on Babel that criticism still holds. Their energy is undeniable, however, and songs like "I Will Wait" and "Hopeless Wanderer" show that the band can really soar when the spirit moves them. I'm still baffled that these guys are getting so much mainstream airplay, but hey, getting a decent write-up from me shouldn't disqualify a group from making a buck or two, should it? Overall grade: B+

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