Having these blues means having an outright ass-shakin’ blast, no matter the tempo, or the temperament. The Cash Box Kings play deep dish Chicago-style with bits of Memphis rockabilly for sweetener. They’re a serious, rafter-shaking crew of incredible players, or, as harmonica whiz Joe Nosek calls them, “blues fanatics.”
“Royal Mint” (curiously titled for the UK’s coin producer — cooler-sounding these days than the Federal Reserve, I suppose) is the award-winning group’s ninth album since Nosek formed them in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. And, it marks their debut for the esteemed Chicago blues imprint, Alligator Records. For that, they pulled out all the stops, laying down a baker’s dozen numbers that trace the blues from the delta to the big city with remarkable savvy.
Ten years ago, Nosek invited singer Oscar Wilson to stand front and center — all 300 pounds of joy and blues-shout of him. Twenty years Nosek’s senior at 64, and a Chicago native, Wilson studied at the feet of some of the greats. That pays off, right off, in the way he commands “House Party,” which gets the album off to a jumpin’, shindig of a start. But it’s when he sings Muddy Waters’ “Flood” (not one you hear very often), that Wilson’s reverence and verve boom into a blues event that completely captivates. Lee Kanehira’s amazing piano playing calls to mind Otis Spann for his tough, bell-clear rolling, the overall result a top-shelf Muddy tribute. Then things change.
Before the hayride rockabilly of “Build That Wall” even commences, the idea behind it is obvious. Regardless of position, there’s no arguing the worth of the tune as a tune — brilliant in every way. Also titled as powerfully as it’s played, “Blues for Chi-Raq” takes no prisoners in its condemnation of the state of violence in the Windy City. That’s a good thing. The raw vibe, and the dual guitars of Billy Flynn and Joel Paterson ringing out like fire in it — that’s all a great thing. Flynn, one of Chicago’s absolute best veteran players, handles the majority of the guitar on the album. Legendary drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith performs on several as well. The old guard and the new blood — these Cash Box Kings are chock-full of royalty. Their “Royal Mint” is blues worth a fortune.
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- Cash Box Kings
Label: Alligator Records
Release: June 29, 2017