Rock & roll didn't just immaculately show up with Elvis in the late '50s. Although his flair for gyration and his undeniable sex appeal definitely helped turn the form into the juggernaut it became, there were rumblings that prefigured rock & roll as far back as the mid-'40s when Western swing, country, and boogie collided to create what was known as hillbilly boogie or cat music, and the only reason it wasn't rock & roll was because the term hadn't shown up yet. This generous 32-track compilation explores some of this early boogie music, and it's as revelatory as it is fun, with cuts like Merle Travis' "I'll Have a Ball," Tennessee Ernie's "Catfish Boogie," and Wade Ray's "Idaho Red" all showing the considerable energy that this interesting and almost forgotten hybrid brought to the table. Ranging from the stark primitivism of Harmonica Frank's "Rockin' Chair Daddy," which is so spare and raw that it feels like a field recording, to the relative sophistication of Marty Robbins' fiddle-laced version of "That's All Right" (which stripped back down would become one of Elvis' first hits), this set gives indisputable proof that nothing is born in a vacuum. Fun as a grin on a Saturday night, this collection makes you eager to see volume two.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett