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Music Review: Cash Box Kings – I-94 Blues

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If you like the Cash Box Kings,  straight ahead blues and blues-rock, you’ll love this CD. Even if you don’t like the Cash Box Kings, you’ll still love this CD! I-94 Blues is an up-to-the-minute, modern-blues disc done in the style that’s made blues music a world attraction. In addition to usual suspects Joe Nosek, Kenny Smith, Chris Boeger and Oscar Wilson, this album guests Billy Flynn, Steve Freund, Joel Patterson, Barrelhouse Chuck, Mark Haines, and Jimmy Sutton.

The opening cut, “Default Boogie” is, to use that tired cliché, “ripped from today’s headlines.” It’s a not-unkind-enough tribute to our country’s illustrious bankers and mortgage experts, right up to federal level. (Ripping their toenails out with rusty pliers would be too good for ‘em!) While the subject is certainly sad enough, the song itself is a master craftsman’s job worthy of pushing that ‘repeat’ button on your CD player more than once.

I was ecstatic when I saw Billy Flynn as a guest on this CD. If you looked at my review of his latest CD, Blues Drive, which you can find here, you’ll see that I made no mention of my favorite song on that CD, “Lady J.” “The J-Lady,” as I called her, was a DJ on a Milwaukee radio station, WMSE, which you can listen to live on the Web. Eighteen hours weekly they offer a program called Blues Drive, which is what Billy’s dual-CD offering is not-so-coincidentally called. (The J-Lady’s shows are archived, and you can listen in anytime. Well worth the effort.) I was introduced to both the Cash Box Kings and Billy Flynn after I’d moved to Milwaukee more than 10 years ago, and by no less than the J-Lady. After that I began looking for them at live venues and I began to enjoy them even more. They don’t fail to please the crowds, so don’t ever miss an opportunity to see them live.

In addition to Flynn, guests include Oscar Wilson on vocals, Mark Haines on drums and percussion, Jimmy Sutton on stand-up bass and backing vocals, Barrelhouse Chuck (a very under-rated keyboard man; pay attention to the fourth selection, “Mellow Chick Swing”), and Joel Paterson on guitar.

I-94 Blues is appropriately titled for just about any blues group in the upper Midwest region, since I-94 is the road where most of those groups seem to spend a lot of their time. There are a few covers, although most of the CD is original material. One cover that stood out to me is #11, one of two by Muddy Waters. On “Tried So Hard,” Flynn plays a mean slide guitar, and it seemed to my ears that Nosek’s harmonica was more than perfect. Listen up for Flynn’s banjo (yes!) on the title cut, and mandolin (yes! again) on “Quesadilla Boogie.”

This is the first Cash Box Kings CD I’ve reviewed for BlogCritics, although I did previously review The Royal Treatment in the May 2007 issue of Elmore magazine. I certainly hope it won’t be the last CBK release I review. I-94 Blues is 15 cuts, 58:19 of hard-driving, and occasionally gutbucket blues, and well-worth however much you have to pay for it.

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About Lou Novacheck