Blues Bytes


May 2019

The Cash Box Kings
Hail To The Kings!
Alligator Records

Cash Box Kings

I've enjoyed previous albums by Chicago-based The Cash Box Kings but have never had the opportunity see these cats in person. But after just one time through their latest CD, Hail To The Kings! on Alligator Records, and I'm checking the cost of flights to Chicago to hopefully catch one of their live shows. It truly is that good,  and listening to this disc on your home stereo is as much fun as you can have without having this band playing in your own living room. Hail To The Kings! is just plain ol' high quality Chicago blues by some of the best musicians in the city.

The names of The Cash Box Kings band members will be familiar to most blues fans: Oscar Wilson (vocals), Joe Nosek (harmonica & vocals), Billy Flynn (guitar), Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith (drums) and John W. Lauler (bass). It's a great lineup of blues professionals with many decades of combined experience behind them. Most of the songs were co-written by Nosek and Wilson.

Starting it off is an up-tempo jump blues, "Ain't No Fun (When The Rabbit Got The Gun)," showcasing Wilson's outstanding raw vocals, good harp solos from Nosek and fine piano work from Queen Lee Kanehira who is heard from throughout the album. Shemekia Copeland is the guest star on the mid-tempo shuffle, "The Wine Talkin'," trading vocals back and forth with Wilson. Of course, this song is going to be great with these two blues vets going at each other.

The hard-driving 12-bar blues, "Take Anything I Can," has Wilson singing about his preferences in women --- "... I don't' want no skinny woman, this you should understand, but until I get what I want I'll take anything I can ..." Billy Flynn tears off a hot guitar solo here and we get really good harp from Nosek. Wilson then proceeds to share with us that he doesn't have expensive tastes in food, but on the slow blues "Smoked Jowl Blues" he lets us know that getting his preferred meal just may be a condition for getting his loving. Nosek takes lead vocals on his own composition, "Back Off," a fast tempo blues that leads off with an incendiary harmonica solo.

"I'm The Man Down There" is the first of two covers on the disc, with Wilson showing that he's got a rough and ready voice that's well-suited for this Jimmy Reed classic. "Poison In My Whiskey," a slow blues that features plenty of creative echo-ey guitar licks by Flynn, is one of the best cuts here. Nosek does a good Little Walter imitation by blowing his harp so loud that it almost overwhelms Wilson's vocals but not quite, just like Walter used to do to Muddy on their legendary Chess recordings.

"Joe, You Aint' From Chicago" is a novelty number with a Bo Diddley-style beat, in which the  band constantly puts down Nosek for being from the suburbs and not from Chicago proper. The frequent mentions of Chicago institutions like Maxwell Street, the Checkerboard Lounge, Italian beef sandwiches, etc. will bring back a lot of Windy City memories for native Chicagoans. By the end of the song, the rest of the band finally accepts Nosek as being from Chicago, but then he turns the tables on them by proudly declaring that he's from the suburbs.

Wilson uses "Bluesman Next Door," a mid-tempo funky shuffle, to prove some points about how he and other musicians are treated by those who go to see him in blues clubs but then want him to stay within his space --- "... Some folks say they like the blues, but they don't want me living next door ..." Nosek again steps to the front of the stage for the rockabilly-ish "Hunchin' On My Baby," starting with a hard-driving harp intro and later having Flynn summoning his inner-Carl Perkins for some fine guitar work.

"Jon Burge Blues" tells the tale of one of Chicago's most ruthless cop. Look it up online. Burge cost the city of Chicago many millions of dollars in reparations for police brutality over the years, mostly against black citizens of the city. Our second cover song is a remake of Mercy Dee Walton's "Sugar Daddy," a slow blues with laconic vocals from Wilson, nice slide guitar work from Flynn and more Little Walter-style harmonica from Nosek.

The final number, a fun rollicking tune called "Wrong Number," has all of us nodding in agreement. How many of us have sent text messages to the wrong number? I'm guessing about 99.99% of those reading this review. But in Wilson's case, he thought he was texting plans for a rendezvous to his girlfriend but instead sent the message to his wife. Gulp.

The blues doesn't get much more enjoyable than when The Cash Box Kings are playing. I just said that the Kingfish album, my Pick Hit for this month, is in contention for blues album of the year. I'll also put Hail To The Kings! in the running. Two great albums from Alligator in one month --- wow!

--- Bill Mitchell




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