They call it a blues collective, but this collection of Chicago bluesmasters is more like a royal hive of raucous houserockers. Cash Box Kings' founder/harpist/singer/songwriter Joe Nosek started the group in 2001, but the addition of vocalist Oscar Wilson in 2007 blew it up to kingly status. The rest of the band is the collective part, a rotating cast of characters that swap out their talents depending on the venue and state of mind and availability of those wanting to be involved. Joel Paterson and Billy Flynn handle guitar duties, Willie Big Eyes Smith's son Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith shares drum duties with Mark Haines, Brad Ber handles bass duties, and Lee Kanehira works the keys.
The sound is all over the place, in a good way. The Kings tackle a variety of styles and genres, putting their unique stamp on material by Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Clifton Chenier, Jimmy Reed and Amos Milburn on their latest release.
Milburn's “House Party” glides along the same smooth rails as the original, but gets punched up a bit when Nosek jumps in on harp, blasting away like James Cotton.
Jimmy Reed's 1958 shuffle “I'm Gonna Get My Baby” gets smoothed out, Wilson's vocals even more laconic than Reeds, cured with a smokehouse flavor.
Muddy's “Flood” is ripped chapter and verse right out of the book of Mud, Wilson's spot-on ponderous pontificatin' punctuated with great late nite jukejoint keyboard ruffles and flourishes from Kanehira and more gigantic Cotton waaahs from Nosek.
But when they slide over into original territory, the hive comes out stingin'. Despite the title, the current administration wouldn't want to use “Build That Wall” as a campaign rally whipper-upper: “Go on build that wall/ mistreat people with brown skin but most of all: you can ignore what Jesus said /you know the poor are better off dead. /come on now USA let's build that wall.” The Kings don't stop there, taking on climate change deniers as well: “Take your science and your facts/you can blow them out your ass/'Cause the unexamined life is where it's at Climate change ain't all that bad, you know it's just a passing fad/ come on now USA let's build that wall.”
On Robert Johnson's “Travelin' Riverside Blues,” Paterson delivers low and wiggly counterpoint to Wilson's scratchy, laid back country blues vocalization.
Although it's got an old-school Chicago blues feel, “If You Got a Jealous Woman, Facebook Ain't Your Friend” mixes old and new technology, upgrading the basic blues text on cheatin' on your woman to social media. “I can't help it if women take a likin' to me,” Wilson whines, finally realizing that “When you post on Facebook, Facebook tells on me.”
"Blues For Chi-Raq” chronicles the intensity of the gun violence in his Chicago neighborhood, ending with Wilson shouting “Don't shoot me !”
Punched up with a horn section and some rattly barrelhouse piano, Clifton Chenier's “All Night Long” moves from bluesy Zydeco to snappy R&B. Chenier's version was dominated by his accordion and Harry Hypolite's guitar, but the Kings' version gives most everybody in the collective a chance to jump in and wail.
Whether resurrecting the past or living in the moment, the Cash Box Kings' collective bluesology satisfies your cravin' for hard core Chicago blues, served up hot and tasty.