Cash Box Kings

Hail to the Kings!
by Dave Leucinger
May 2019

Cash Box Kings

Cash Box Kings

Veteran music groups often struggle with finding new content over time – material that maintains the “sound” of an artist without coming off as a retread of earlier material. That’s certainly not a problem for the Cash Box Kings for their ninth overall release (and second for Alligator), Hail to the Kings. All but two of the tracks are straight from the group’s two anchors, vocalist/composer Oscar Wilson and harmonica/vocalist/composer Joe Nosek.

As expected, the bedrock of the release remains Wilson’s vocals, a soulful voice from an earlier time – certainly a master in his own style, but with nuances close to that of a young Jimmy Rogers (Muddy Waters’ long-time guitarist). Rather than focus solely on Wilson’s exemplary vocal attributes, what also comes through with conviction are Wilson’s lyrics on two topical songs. On “Bluesman Next Door,” Wilson slices through the hypocrisy of so-called blues music fans who praise “real” (read: African-American) blues musicians – and who would “probably call the cops” should any of them be seen walking through or moving into their neighborhoods. The second track, “Jon Burge Blues,” is a strong indictment of the decades of abuse suffered by Chicago’s African-American community under the tyranny of police detective Jon Burge – who, with a team of corrupt cops, tortured false confessions out of innocent young men. (Side note: this track features two of the Madison area’s rising blues stars, guitarist Xavi Lynn and drummer Derek Hendrickson.) Taken together, these two tracks mark a noteworthy move for Wilson, Nosek, and the group – using classic blues styles to speak to contemporary wrongs.

Lest you get the impression that the entire disc is that heavy, relax – there’s plenty of more light-hearted material, including the radio-friendly “The Wine Talkin’,” which pairs Wilson with Shemekia Copeland on a day-after review of the night before. Also in that vain is my favorite track, “Joe, You Ain’t From Chicago,” a Bo Diddley-beat number with Nosek trying to justify his Chicago blues cred – and Wilson having none of it. It’s a more lyrically-dense throwback to Diddley’s verbal interplay with his maracas player, Jerome Green, on “Say Man” (and subsequent numbers). In his own understated way, Nosek has steadily developed his harmonica technique and phrasing to be in the top tier of contemporary harmonica players – fluidly drawing inspiration from ‘50’s material by Billy Boy Arnold and Big Walter Horton (as heard on “Smoked Jowl Blues”).

Blues session man extraordinaire Billy Flynn also delivers plenty of guitar gems, from the Earl Hooker-style wah-wah on “Poison in my Whiskey” to the Pat Hare-influenced distortion on “Hunchin’ on My Baby.” Pianist Lee Kanehira channels mid-century Chicago icons such as Eddie Boyd and Otis Spann on multiple tracks; meanwhile, the rhythm section of Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on percussion and newcomer John W. Lawler on bass dig such a deep pocket that you could almost fit the old Jazz Record Mart into it. Make no mistake – Hail to the Kings will be one of this year’s top blues releases, and should be in regular rotation for decades to come.

The Cash Box Kings’ upcoming performances include S.P.A.C.E. In Evanston, IL on May 11; the Knuckledown Saloon in Madison, WI on May 17; Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago on May 22; the Monsteras Blues & Roots International Festival in Monsteras, Sweden on June 1; and multiple performances in Chicago during the Chicago Blues Festival.

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Cash Box Kings
CD: Hail To The Kings Record Label: Alligator
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