Delectable Chicago deep dish supreme, served up piping hot with loads of loose-limbed flair and out-and-out delight. Damn right, we should all “Hail to the Kings!” The Cash Box Kings’ ninth album is just plain fantastic.
Blues traditions shine first and foremost in their music, but it’s obvious that 10 sharp eyes and ears are also riveted on the here and now. This band plays the blues with floor-rattling might, and gut-bucket-loads of cool, easily closing the gap between artistic authenticity and wide-ranging appeal.
Take “The Wine Talkin’,” a galloping rocker, and a droll duet between Kings frontman Oscar Wilson and guest Shemekia Copeland. The real deal, yet it would fit easily within some popular Netflix comedy. Singer-songwriter and blues-harp furnace Joe Nosek formed The Cash Box Kings in Madison, Wisconsin, 18 years ago. His passion for the sources, coupled with a serious nose to the grindstone, has led him to leading one of the finest contemporary Chicago blues bands in the business, now boasting royalty in its ranks.
Guitarist Billy Flynn, also from Wisconsin, has worked with a who’s who of Chicago blues luminaries since 1975. With the Kings these past 10 years, he’s found the perfect home for his spicy, but buttery licks. In the album-opening “Ain’t No Fun (When the Rabbit Got the Gun),” Flynn calls to mind the West Coast’s late, great Hollywood Fats with his twang, while a trainload of Windy City blues gets rolling, hard and fast. What an instant impression it all makes.
The Kings also have Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, as kickin’ a rhythm machine as was his dad, the legendary Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. But most notably, it’s here that singer Oscar Wilson completely solidifies his own legend with his bold, shrewd, raw maple delivery. Wilson takes hold of “Take Anything I Can,” and applies the same level of heat that Nosek turns up to on his harp. On “Jon Burge Blues,” he relates the horrifying and stark reality of a Chicago police detective accused of 20 years of torturing those he arrested. Recounting Burge’s story today makes sense, and Wilson commands attention to the matter. That right there is the real blues; bad in every way, but alluring nonetheless.
— Tom Clarke
- ‘Hail to the Kings’
Cash Box Kings
Release: May 17, 2019
Label: Alligator Records