The Cash Box Kings
past recordings from The Cash Box Kings,
considered one of the truest blues ensembles on
the blues scene today. But until I delved into
their history, I didn't realize that this fine,
fine group of musicians with roots in Madison,
Wisconsin has been around in one form or another
since 2001 --- and with nine albums to their
credit. Started by harmonica player Joe Nosek,
the band really started to gain street cred with
the 2007 addition of the very excellent soulful
singer Oscar Wilson. Other rotating band
members on their latest disc, Royal Mint
(Alligator), include guitarists Billy Flynn (his
new solo album is also reviewed in this
Blues Bytes issue) and
Joel Patterson, drummers Kenny "Beedy Eyes"
Smith and Mark Haines, and bassist Brad Ber, as
well as multiple guest players.
kicks off with a rockin' blues "House Party," a
number that would have easily fit into a 1940s-
or 1950s-era jump band's repertoire. In fact,
Amos Milburn recorded this one in 1955. Each instrumentalist gets a chance to shine here,
but I especially like the sax work of Al Falaschi. Up next is a cover of Jimmy Reed's
"I'm Gonna Get My Baby," with Wilson putting the
appropriate backwoods sound to his vocals and Nosek coming in with solid harmonica
accompaniment. Wilson also handles a
lesser-known Muddy Waters song, "Flood," a slow
blues that allows Lee Kanehira the chance to
stretch out on piano.
What I like best
about this newest album is the very creative and
topical themes on several of the Nosek / Wilson
originals. I'll keep politics out of this review
by limiting my comments about the content of "Build That Wall,"
only to say that it's a tongue-in-cheek spoof
about our country's current leader and his
followers, featuring Nosek on vocals. Listen to
it and you'll see what I mean. My bi-partisan
statement is that Flynn plays some really nice
guitar licks on this up-tempo tune --- liberals
and conservatives alike should be able to agree
with that statement.
Wilson follows with
a lament about the violence on the streets of
Chicago on "Blues For Chi-Raq," and Flynn really
takes off on several extended guitar solos
reminiscent to the playing of the late Robert
Ward and his magical Magnatone amplifier. We
hear Wilson's more humorous side on the
self-descriptive "If You Got A Jealous Woman
Facebook Ain't Your Friend." In other words, if
you're a lady's man out on the town then you
those selfies! This is getting repetitive but
Flynn plays some nice guitar here and Nosek
jumps in with a smokin' harp solo.
It's impressive how
well this band jumps back and forth between city
blues and country blues, with the latter genre
represented by the stark "Traveling Riverside
Blues," a Robert Johnson classic that allows
Paterson a chance to show off his skills on the
slide guitar. Oh, so nice.
Nosek steps back to
the mic for the slow honky tonk blues, "Daddy
Bear Blues," highlighted by Kanehira's
tasteful piano work and mandolin from Flynn. The
rhythm section of Haines and Ber also stands out
here. We pick up the tempo with "Sugar Sweet,"
another Muddy original on which Wilson summons
his inner Morganfield by getting just the right
Muddy-style inflections in his voice, and then
tackles the slow blues, "I'm a Stranger," a
classic from the Earl Hooker & Junior Wells
songbook. Flynn even provides the some of the
same slide guitar licks as the original.
Another stark, slow
blues is Wilson's somewhat autobiographical
composition, "I Come All The Way From Chi-Town,"
joined here only by Paterson's guitar and Nosek
on the country blues harmonica. It's brilliant
in its simplicity and emotion. But then the mood
changes completely with an up-tempo Clifton
Chenier cover, "All Night Long." No accordion
here, but the standard Cash Box Kings
instrumentalists do a great job in providing the
right wall of sound, especially Flynn's
incendiary guitar solo.
Wrapping up this
fine baker's dozen of tunes is a fun Nosek
original, "Don't Let Life Tether You Down," with
Kanehira's honky tonk piano driving the tune
through its short 1:54 duration. There are
several important lessons here, such as " ...
don't let money run your life ..." and "
... so leave that Facebook alone and your iPhone
at home ..."
has already earned a spot on my Top Ten list for
2017. It's one of the best I've heard all year.
--- Bill Mitchell