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CD Review -- Cash Box Kings


I-94 Blues

Blue Bella Records

Cash Box Kings CD art


By Mike O’Cull

        The past, to many blues fans, is more important than the present. A great many of us, this reviewer included on occasion, spend more time in the company of Howlin’ Wolf and the three Kings than with many current blues records or artists. Maybe it is the desire to hear innovators rather than imitators or just the long-time familiarity of the players who originally set the blues in motion. Sometimes, however, a band like Chicago’s Cash Box Kings crosses the ol’ transom and snaps everything right back to the present day. Cash Box Kings are certainly blues devotees and are expert in the ways of the masters who came before them but, as the band shows on its latest release I-94 Blues, they are also musicians of today, able to write songs about modern life and unafraid to throw in a style-twisting cover when appropriate.

                The band  -- Joe Nosek (harp, vocals), Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (drums), Chris Boeger (electric and upright bass) and Oscar Wilson (vocals) -- shows remarkable musical chemistry in all they do and the vocal and instrumental work here is on a very high level.  The Kings are joined by ace Chicago blues veterans who share their devotion to the blues titans: Billy Flynn (lead and rhythm guitar, mandolin, banjo), Steve Freund (guitar), Joel Paterson (lead guitar), Barrelhouse Chuck on the ivories, drummer Mark Haines (also on acoustic guitar) and Jimmy Sutton on upright bass and vocals. (If you don’t know these names, you might want to Google them. They all have outstanding blues cred).

Nosek’s harp work is especially satisfying. The songs are equally well done. The original “Default Boogie” tells a story ripped from today’s headlines but also echoes economic woes of the past. The group’s cover of Jim Croce’s “You Don’t  Mess Around With Jim” is a pleasant surprise. Could “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” be next, especially since the song’s setting is the South Side of Chicago? The Kings handily cover two Muddy Waters tunes (“Country Boy” and “Hard Days Blues”) powered by the manly vocals of South Sider Oscar Wilson.

 What’s even cooler is the fact that the entire album was tracked in a single day and is pretty much live in the studio. Cash Box Kings can do it all, it seems, and make it look easy. The band is living proof that one gets back from the blues what one puts into it, which, in this case, is a boatload of heart and soul.  


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