The small Cuca label, based in the equally small town of Sauk City, Wisconsin, is known mostly for releasing the original version of the Fendermen's "Mule Skinner Blues" (included here), which became a number five hit in 1960 after being re-recorded for Soma. Cuca went on to record several hundred singles in various styles, including some mid- to late-'60s garage rock and psychedelia that has been anthologized elsewhere. This particular 30-song compilation, however, concentrates on rock & roll and rockabilly cut for the label between the tail end of the '50s and the mid-'60s, none of which got heard outside the region (and little of which, actually, got heard within the region). As is par for the course with comps of obscure regional releases, you'd never put this stuff on a level with Gene Vincent or Eddie Cochran, and much of the material has a by-numbers feel common to musicians struggling on the bottom rungs of the ladder. It's above average for these sort of compilations, however, for a few reasons. The performances usually do have a likable, guileless energy and conviction, and Cuca's studio did get a better, more professional sound than many similar shoestring outfits did. Plus, the tracks serve as quite fascinating, and fairly enjoyable, documentary evidence that there were plenty of combos rocking away in the hinterlands in a '50s-derived style during the years in which such "real" rock & roll had supposedly died with Buddy Holly.
If for nothing else, it would have value for containing the rare original version of "Mule Skinner Blues," which is extremely similar to the familiar hit re-recording, though the re-recording is better produced (and has more reverb). But some of the other cuts are respectably exciting in their own right, especially the 1963 cover of Bill Monroe-by-way-of-Gene Vincent's "Rocky Road Blues" by the Muleskinners, led by ex-Fenderman Jim Sindquist. Their sound on this explosive rockabilly number (especially on the instrumental break) is rather reminiscent of the treatment the Beatles gave to numbers like Carl Perkins' "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby." Not that the Muleskinners would have been influenced by the Beatles or vice versa, but when you can be mentioned in the same sentence as the Beatles without embarrassment in any context, it's a feather in your cap. The influence of Gene Vincent in particular is surprisingly pervasive, both in the style and some of the specific songs, including a fine cover of Joe South's "I Might Have Known" (learned from Vincent's cover) by the Teen Kings. A few other tracks have a more R&B or country-oriented sound, though certainly nothing on here is slick. That goes double for "Janice," the rare B-side of the Fendermen's original attempt at "Mule Skinner Blues," a threadbare demo-like recording with nothing more than a forlorn vocal and electric guitar. ~ Richie Unterberger