If you’re familiar with Cash as a country singer, his debut will likely come as a bit of a shock, though the “Million Dollar Quartet” makes a little bit more sense.
The other thing that comes as a surprise is that I have always viewed him as an interpretive singer but here Cash is presented as both performer and songwriter, writing nearly half of the songs here (including two of his most iconic songs, “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues”).
It’s mostly fairly pure rockabilly, and the lack of the drums means that the percussive aspect of the music has to come from the bass and guitars, making for a sound that, as far as I know, was relatively original. (At least that might have been the case when Cash first started making these recordings a full three years before this album was released because, like so many of the albums of the era, this is more of a compilation than any single statement.)
But I have a few quibbles:
- For one thing, I was raised on Johnny Rivers so I prefer his cover of “The Rock Island Line” and I have a hard time enjoying this one (not Cash’s fault).
- More substantial might be the criticism that the covers are not necessarily a great set of songs or, rather, Cash’s versions of these songs are not necessarily definitive.
- It’s hard to hear someone so associated with a particular type of country playing rockabilly and, unlike when one first hears Elvis doing rockabilly, there’s not really a moment of revelation. (Cash, as you might expect, is far closer to country than most of his rockabilly contemporaries and so there’s less of a rock and roll aspect to this music, and therefore less of an edge.)
This is a solid record and likely much better than a lot of other equivalent records of the era. And it launched Cash’s career. But I have a feeling that somewhere in his massive, massive discography (96 albums), he put out a better studio album, or at least one more true to what his real desire was as a performer.
Oh, and can I just add that the title is moronic? I know what hot and blue both meant in the context of 1957 and Cash’s acoustic guitar, which serves more as a percussion instrument much of the time, is neither.