There was never a rockabilly singer who looked more perfect than Ersel Hickey; in the famous Gene Laverne portrait of Hickey, with his pompadour teased just right, his clothes looking sharp as a razor, and his guitar and legs poised for action, the man looks so powerfully cool you're almost afraid hearing him would spoil the effect. And while that isn't quite the case, Hickey's look did indeed outweigh his musical abilities, and his recorded legacy confirms he was a genuine talent but not one of the true greats of rockabilly. Hangin' Around at Heartbreak Hotel isn't the best place to judge his musical abilities; while some of his rare Epic and Fine records sides are included, this disc is dominated by unreleased acoustic demos and latter-period recordings when he was marketing himself as a country act or a more polished pop-rocker. On his classic sides such as "Bluebirds Over the Mountain," "You Never Can Tell," and "Goin Down That Road," Hickey sounds fine and rocks with a solid, easygoing groove. However, while there isn't anything wrong with country sides like "(Play On) Strings of Gitarro," and "Country Tough," they sound more like latter-period Marty Robbins than anything to do with rock & roll, and the excessive polish of pop numbers like "Blue Skies" and "Some Enchanted Evening" overwhelm the strength of his vocals, which were arguably better than in his rockabilly heyday. (The off-key 1957 demo of "Street Car Named Desire" suggests he still had a way to go as a singer in his early years.) Rockabilly obsessives may find this set valuable, but most folks with an interest in Ersel Hickey would be much better served by the collections of his hits available on Bear Family and Collectables, which offer the meat of his music with less garnish.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming