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CD REVIEW -- The Cash Box Kings


Black Toppin’

Blind Pig Records

Cash Box Kings

By Al Finley

Chicago’s Cash Box Kings made a big splash with their international debut Holler & Stomp on Blind Pig Records in 2011. Prior to that, they had released two indie CDs and one album on Nick and Kate Moss’s Blue Bella label. Although CBK’s personnel has changed over the years, Joe Nosek and Oscar Wilson have remained the band’s driving force.

For their sophomore Blind Pig recording, the same team that played on Holler & Stomp headed back to Jimmy Sutton’s Hi-Style Studios with Alex Hall to produce another analog, warm-sounding gem that reflects the many facets of post-war blues.  If anything, The Cash Box Kings’ new Black Toppin’ record is even more diverse and delightful than their previous effort.

Once again Joe Nosek and Oscar Wilson split the vocals almost evenly between them.  Harp blower Joe mostly sticks to his own originals; but manages the most surprising cover in the Velvet Underground’s “Run Run Run.”  Don’t worry blues purists; you are going to like this cut just as much as the rest of this backward looking project. Black Toppin’ features retro styled music that simultaneously projects an alternative blues future -- one that doesn’t overwhelm with guitar-dominated blues rock or radio ready rap tracks.  Instead, The Cash Box Kings resurrect sounds and styles almost forgotten in today’s blues market and make them sound brand new again.

Oscar’s originals are fewer in number; but always fun.  He provides the catchy title track in “Black Toppin’ “ and maybe my favorite cut this time around in the steamy “Hot Biscuit Baby.” His covers include tracks made popular by Little Walter, Lightning Slim and Jimmy Rogers.  The fact Oscar and Joe’s originals can stand side by side with these giants speaks volumes about the quality of their songwriting and their singing too.

Perhaps The Cash Box Kings’ not-so-secret weapon is guitarist Joel Paterson.  Joel sounds comfortable with any style thrown at him.  Always tasteful and playful whether jumping or biting; Joel’s playing never settles for clichés or overstays its welcome.  Joel is most often aided and abetted by his partner in the Modern Sounds: standup and electric bassist Beau Sample.  Texan Beau’s recent move to the Chicago area has certainly been the blues capital’s gain.  With Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith most often on the drums; you know The Cash Box Kings have got a rhythm section that will keep you dancing.

Special mention should also be made of the other contributors to Black Toppin’: Billy Flynn and Gerry Hundt add some additional guitar licks and Gerry some electric bass as well; Mark Haines and Alex Hall drum when Kenny doesn’t; Jerry Devivo adds some saxophone spice; and Chicago piano professor Barrelhouse Chuck not only puts his piano exactly where you want it; but he also surprises with some organ as well that always hits a sweet spot.

Actually, The Cash Box Kings like to describe their sound on some of the tracks as “blues-a-billy” -- their own hybrid of Sun Records’ blues, country and rockabilly sounds.  As a music lover who grew up with a pile of Sun singles, perhaps that is why they so seem to have my number.  They can do no wrong in my book.  I encourage you to seek out either or both of their recordings on Blind Pig Records or go see then live when they come to your town.

Al Finley hosts two shows on WNUR 89.3 FM: “Both Kinds” and “The Blues Show”





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