Album Reviews

The Cash Box Kings

Royal Mint

Artist:     The Cash Box Kings

Album:     Royal Mint

Label:     Alligator

Release Date:     6/30/2017

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It is only fitting that one of the best blues bands in the country is now on the premier blues label. And, according to co-leader Joe Nosek, t he Cash Box Kings’ ninth release is their best yet.

This band has all the ingredients: powerhouse vocals from Oscar Wilson, top-flight guitarists in Billy Flynn and Joe Patterson, world class drummers Mark Haines and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith with Brad Ber on bass. This is their first recording since the passing of the charismatic pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, but Lee Kanehira has stepped in to continue the band’s signature blend of traditional Chicago blues and Memphis rockabilly into a hybrid style they call “bluesabilly.” The Cash Box Kings are a bit like Mississippi Heat in that most of the members play in other bands and serve as sidemen for other projects. The two constants are the co-leaders, harmonicist/vocalist Joe Nosek and vocalist Oscar Wilson. The band is remarkably versatile, covering the gamut from jump blues to down-and-gritty Chicago blues countered by a contemporary flair in subject matter that addresses politics, Chicago gun violence and a humorous take on Internet love.

Elder statesman Wilson describes the band as “ A throwback to the golden age of blues with some kickin’ fresh young blood.” Six originals from “Build That Wall” to “Blues for Chi-Raq” to the on-point “If You Got a Jealous Woman, Facebook Ain’t Your Friend” are blended with covers of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Clifton Chenier, Amos Milburn, and Jimmy Reed. Wilson and Nosek on Muddy’s “Flood” sound just like Muddy and James Cotton. The choice of Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” was likely in tribute to Barrelhouse Chuck with the song’s refrain “barrelhouse all night long.” A three-piece horn section gives added power to the gun violence themed “Blues for Chi-Raq.”

As Alligator Records president Bruce Iglauer says, “The whole band can deliver jumping party shuffles or down-in-the-alley gritty blues.” There’s a nice variety of styles from musicians who know how to play in the tradition. The Cash Box Kings’ Royal Mint will take you back to the glory days of Chess and Sun, but retains an immediacy that few other bands can match.

—Jim Hynes

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