Recently, we told you about Chicago bluesman Linsey Alexander’s soulful latest album Two Cats. If you’re in the mood for something of the Chicago variety with a little more swing, you’ll want to check out Royal Mint, the Alligator Records debut for seasoned Midwestern players The Cash Box Kings.
Formed in 2001 by harmonica player Joe Nosek, the band added veteran Chicago vocalist Oscar Wilson six years later, with the two now leading a rotating line-up of band members that includes Billy Flynn and Joel Paterson on guitar, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Mark Haines and Alex Hall taking turns on the drum kit, Brad Ber on bass, Mel Ford on rhythm guitar, and newbie Lee Kanehira on piano and organ, filling a void left by late longtime band member and friend Barrelhouse Chuck, who wasn’t well enough to play on this recording (the band’s first without him in ten years) and to whom the album is dedicated.
Together, they produce a delightfully entertaining baker’s dozen of songs, from the swinging, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones-like sounds of the opening “House Party” (Amos Milburn) and Clifton Chenier’s “All Night Long”, both featuring Al Falaschi on saxophone, to the stripped-down Delta blues of Robert Johnson’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” that features just Wilson on vocals and Paterson on guitar, to the light breezy ragtime of the closing original “Don’t Let Life Tether You Down”, one of three songs on which Nosek handles vocals, providing such sage advice as “don’t let money run your life, cuz’ greed leads to strife” and “so leave that Facebook alone, and your iPhone at home/ don’t let things tether you down/ don’t let rectangular screens pull you ’round on a string/ don’t let things tether you down”.
Having grown up on Chicago’s 43rd St. (a portion of which is now known as Muddy Waters Drive) in the company of bluesmen such as Junior Wells, Elmore James, and good friend David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Wilson has a strong, expressive voice similar to that of Waters and Waters’ protégé John Primer, particularly on tracks such as the slow, soulful Waters song “Flood”, the swaying blues of “I’m Gonna Get My Baby” (Jimmy Reed), the zippy, uptempo “Sugar Sweet” (another Waters tune), and the creeping “I’m a Stranger” (Junior Wells).
Several of the songs here have themes similar to those we heard on Alexander’s release, with the band offering its own pokes at social media and presidential politics on the swinging “If You Got a Jealous Woman Facebook Ain’t Your Friend” that’s filled with lively guitar, keyboards and harmonica, and the tongue-in-cheek rockabilly political commentary of “Build That Wall”, with its Chuck Berry-ish riffs and on which Nosek sarcastically sings “this P.C. thing’s a bunch of crap, now we can mock the handicapped/ and when we’re done with that, let’s go and build a wall” and “take your science and your facts/ you can blow ’em out your #&$, ‘cuz the unexamined life is where it’s at/ climate change ain’t that all bad, you know it’s just a passin’ fad/ c’mon now you will say, let’s build that wall”.
The swaying original “Blues for Chi-Raq” has a tough, Fabulous Thunderbirds sound to match its lyrics on violence in Chicago, with some terrific guitar and horns, while the band slows things down a bit on the remaining two originals, a quiet countryish “Daddy Bear Blues” that features Flynn on mandolin and Nosek again on vocals, and a “I Come All the Way From Chi-Town” (“just to shake glad hands with you”) that offers both a traditional blues sound and lyrics.
Nosek calls Royal Mint The Cash Box Kings’ “strongest album”, capturing “the band…at its absolute best”, and far be it for us to argue with the guy who knows the band better than anyone. This is indeed a good one!