Cash Box Kings – Hail to the Kings!
CD: 13 Songs, 50:47 Minutes
Styles: Ensemble Blues, “Traditional Contemporary” Blues, Chicago Blues
What do a 300 in bowling, a no-hitter in baseball, and a hole-in-one in golf all have in common? They signify perfection. So does Hail to the Kings! from Chicago’s Cash Box Kings, and I don’t make such a comment lightly. They offer a lucky baker’s dozen: two tasty covers (“I’m the Man Down There,” “Sugar Daddy”) and eleven outstanding originals. Everything about this album is exceptional: instrumentation, lyrics, vocals, and overall vibe. This CD combines the best aspects of classic blues with contemporary themes, including political ones, on songs such as “Bluesman Next Door” and “Jon Burge Blues.” Perhaps its most notable aspect is that it’s the Kings’ sophomore album on Alligator Records. How many of us can say, in our own endeavors, that we’ve reached the top on our second try? Not many, yours truly would guess. Peruse the remarkable roster of musicians and guest stars below. That’ll seal the deal.
Described by Living Blues Magazine as “one of the best blues bands in the land,” the hard-charging Cash Box Kings carry forward the glorious Chicago blues tradition of the whole band’s interplay creating intense, raw music. It’s a constant conversation, sometimes led by tough, real-deal South Side vocalist Oscar Wilson, sometimes by harmonica ace Joe Nosek, and sometimes by master guitarist Billy Flynn, but with all the members of the ensemble chiming in. Bass and drum accents are provided by John W. Lauler and the famed Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith. It’s all in the spirit of the great 1950s and ‘60s bands of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf.
Joining the Kings are Queen Lee Kanehira on piano, electric piano, and organ, Little Frank Krakowski on rhythm guitar, Xavier Lynn on lead guitar, Derek Hendrickson on drums, Shemekia Copeland on duet vocals for track two, and Alex Hall on percussion.
Picking the best three songs is like picking the best chocolate from a sampler box. Here goes.
Track 02: “The Wine Talkin’” – There’s an old saying: “in vino veritas,” meaning “in wine, truth.” Nevertheless, wine can also make one blurt out things one doesn’t really mean. That’s the moral of the spicy second ditty on this CD. Oscar Wilson does a great job on vocals, but it’s Shemekia Copeland who sells it. She tells Wilson, her lover after several drinks, that she has “three little boys at home who never give me peace, and they look just like their daddy, who’s the Chief of Police.” Oops! Take heed of this rip-roaring reminder not to let alcohol blab.
Track 08: “Joe, You Ain’t From Chicago” – Plenty of songs have been written about the Windy City, but few center on those who “don’t know the Loop from Cabrini Green.” That’s Joe, who thinks he’s from Chicago but grew up in the suburbs. The spoken intro and outro are the best parts of this song, nicely put to a Bo Diddley beat by percussionist Alex Hall.
Track 11: “Jon Burge Blues” – Jon Burge, born 1947, was “one of the dirtiest cops that ever walked the streets of Chicago.” This decorated Vietnam veteran turned to the dark side once he came home, running a “torture chamber” for suspects of color – and getting away with it. Xavier Lynn’s lead guitar and Little Frank Krakowski’s rhythm guitar are incendiary.
Looking for perfection? Look no further than the Cash Box Kings’ latest. Hail to the Kings!