The Cash Box Kings
Hail To The 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
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
"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
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
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.
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