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CD REVIEW -- Cash Box Kings
GLT blues radio

The Cash Box Kings

Royal Mint

Alligator Records

Cash Box Kings CD

By Al Finley

It’s hard to believe that Royal Mint is the Cash Box Kings’ ninth album; but it’s great to see the band finally on the blues powerhouse label Alligator Records. Hopefully, Alligator can help raise the profile of this Midwest blues collective to the level they so richly deserve.  The band is certainly doing their part with the record Royal Mint!

 

Founded in Madison, Wisconsin by blues loving harmonicist/singer/songwriter Joe Nosek in 2001; the Cash Box Kings developed their current persona when Chicago bluesman Oscar Wilson joined in 2007.  Since then, the band has maintained a presence in both cities that continues to today.  Royal Mint was recorded in Madison; but mixed and mastered in Chicago.  The resulting record sounds simultaneously old and new.  It reminds you of the glorious blues records of the ‘50s and ‘60s that you fell in love with; but with a clear, penetrating sound that doesn’t sound purposely retro.

 

A rambunctious cover of Amos Milburn’s “House Party” does indeed get the party started!  It leaps from the speakers with reckless abandon sounding less like the original and more like the Cash Box Kings.  Almost evenly divided between originals and covers (including Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Junior Wells and Clifton Chenier), it says a lot about the songwriting skill of Joe and Oscar in that it’s hard to tell which are the originals, that is until you notice modern day references to Facebook, Chi-Raq and building a wall.   Both write with not only a knowing nudge and a wink, but also with a clear eye on the issues and problems of the present.

 

Nosek’s original “Build That Wall” does indeed go there with a proper dose of sarcasm and political humor. “Blues for Chi-Raq” ends with a heart-rending plea from Oscar: “Don’t shoot!”  “If You Got A Jealous Woman Facebook Ain’t Your Friend” is exactly what you would expect and all the better for it.   Less obvious and less expected is the sweetness of “Daddy Bear Blues” and “Don’t Let Life Tether You Down”.  The Cash Box Kings most often seem ready to clown and get-down, but there is a lot of heart in everything they do; attention to quality and detail really helps the Cash Box Kings’ releases stand out from the crowded blues field.

 

Of course, Joe and Oscar also get a lot of help from their fellow Cash Box Kings. Billy Flynn and Joel Paterson are two of Chicago’s most talented and versatile guitarists.  Both are virtual encyclopedias of swinging and stinging blues guitar styles and both have a number of fine solo records to their credit.  Billy even gets to play his mandolin on a cut!  Drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, a member of Chicago’s blues royalty whose late father Willie “Big Eyes” Smith played drums for Muddy Waters, returns to his part-time CBK collective status for few numbers; also in the drum seat is A-lister Mark Haines.  Bassist Brad Ber completes the more than able rhythm section that propels the band forward regardless of the ever changing styles of blues the band employs.

 

Special mention must be made of the keyboard contributions of Lee Kanehira, who has the daunting task of replacing the much-missed Barrelhouse Chuck, who passed away last year.  Ms. Lee is a great fit in the band and also manages to add a little country piano styling to boot. 

 

A band can only be as strong as their weakest link and there is no weak link in the Cash Box Kings!  I can’t imagine any who considers themselves a blues lover not loving this disc; Royal Mint is solid and versatile enough to win a few new recruits to the blues too!

 ###

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