Home Read Albums Of The Week: The Cash Box Kings | Oscar’s Motel

Albums Of The Week: The Cash Box Kings | Oscar’s Motel

If you like your blues raw, raucous, rambunctious and authentically old-school, you owe it to yourself to check out the midwestern duo's inviting & invigorating release.


THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:The Cash Box Kings are led by real-deal Chicago blues singer-songwriter Oscar “Mr. 43rd Street” Wilson, and Madison songwriter, harmonica giant and singer Joe Nosek. Their specialty: Masterfully raw, unvarnished, old-school ensemble blues. Wilson’s huge, emotive vocals and Nosek’s blistering harmonica fuel their razor-sharp original songs and always incisive reinvention of obscure blues classics.

On their new Alligator Records release Oscar’s Motel (their third for the label and 11th overall), The Cash Box Kings bring contemporary authority and old-school authenticity to each of the album’s 11 tracks. The band — featuring guitarist Billy Flynn, drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, bassist John W. Lauler and keyboardist Lee Kanehira — open a door into the intoxicating spirit and sounds of 1950s and 1960s Chicago blues. Then they bring it all right up to the minute with Wilson and Nosek’s instantly memorable originals.

For Oscar’s Motel — recorded in Chicago and produced by Nosek — The Cash Box Kings made some significant decisions going into the studio. According to Nosek: “While we are never afraid to tackle any subject, we decided to put aside everyday problems and have a bit more fun. So, no songs about COVID and this time nothing too political. Our goal was to have Oscar’s Motel be a celebration, an open invitation to leave your troubles behind and have a carefree, down-home, good time.” One listen and it’s clear the band succeeded. The opening two songs — the driving, cinematic title track (with lyrics so vivid you can just about smell the barbeque) and the funky Down On The South Side — are filled with real-life characters ripped straight from Wilson’s colorful past. Wilson says: “Such a glorious time — growing up, there was a tavern on every corner with a band playing and music coming from front porches on every block.”

Photo by Janet Mami Takayama.

From the wickedly good-natured I Can’t Stand You (featuring sparring partners Wilson and vocalist Deitra Farr) to the pleading slow blues Trying So Hard to the rollicking Hot Little Mess, Wilson, Nosek and co. break out one gloriously jubilant performance after another. In the funny-but-true I Want What Chaz Has, famed bluesman John Nemeth (who’s released 11 albums of his own) adds his soulful vocals. On the gospel-inflected, deeply moving Nobody Called It The Blues, the band dig deep in an uplifting performance memorializing and celebrating the long history and healing power of blues music. On the closing Ride Santa Ride, The Cash Box Kings give Chuck Berry and Rudoloph a run for their Christmas money.

The history of The Cash Box Kings begins in Madison, where Nosek founded the band in 2001. Since 2007, his co-leader has been the charismatic, larger-than-life Wilson. Over 20 years apart in age and coming from vastly different backgrounds, the two form an unlikely pair, combining Wilson’s indisputably authentic South Side Chicago vocals and gritty, street-smart songwriting with Nosek’s storytelling vocals, dynamic harmonica and witty tunesmithing. According to Wilson, “The Cash Box Kings are a throwback to the golden age of blues with some kickin’ fresh young blood. Joe is my best friend in the music world — the band is a marriage made in heaven for both of us.” Nosek agrees: “We have each other’s backs. We’re family.”

In their first six years, The Cash Box Kings’ top-notch musicianship and deep blues feeling won the band a large and loyal audience across the Midwest. Wilson joined the group in 2007, bringing with him an instantly commanding stage presence and an authoritative vocal style that gives fire-breathing power to the music. A captivating singer born in Chicago with the blues in his blood and an encyclopedic knowledge of almost every blues song known to man, Wilson is a natural-born entertainer and a perfect foil for Nosek and the band. Born in 1953 on Chicago’s 43rd Street (aka Muddy Waters Drive), Wilson grew up in the company of many famous blues artists. Junior Wells, Elmore James, Big Smokey Smothers and close family friend David “Honeyboy” Edwards were all regulars at weekly Friday night fish fries/jam sessions at the Wilson home. Throughout his adulthood, Wilson held regular jobs but was always welcome sitting in with Chicago blues mainstays like Melvin Taylor and Johnny B. Moore. His vocal inspirations range from Muddy Waters, B.B. King and Albert King to Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter, but he mostly sounds like no one but himself.

Photo by Janet Mami Takayama.

A self-described blues fanatic, Nosek — born in Wisconsin in 1974 and raised the Chicago suburbs — spent his youth soaking up as much blues music as he could hear, both live and on record. In his teens, he began sneaking into blues clubs to watch Junior Wells, James Cotton, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rogers, Sunnyland Slim and others. Nosek recalls, “Seeing those guys made a huge impression on me and propelled me into wanting to learn how to play the blues.” He took up harmonica, quickly cultivating his own aggressive, fluid style. After moving to Madison in the early 1990s, he began sitting in with artists such as Clyde Stubblefield and Luther Allison. Finding like-minded musicians hell-bent on playing raw, rough-edged, hard-charging blues, Nosek formed The Cash Box Kings. They released their first album Live! At The King Club in 2003, instantly earning praise from critics and fans, and gaining a reputation as one of the hottest live bands on the circuit.

With 10 previous releases to their credit and hundreds of live performances under their belts, The Cash Box Kings have won widespread acclaim throughout the blues world. Their Alligator Records debut, 2017’s Royal Mint, was named among the Top Ten Blues Albums of the Year. 2019’s Hail To The Kings! continued the trend, with the band receiving three Blues Music Award nominations, praise from media and radio airplay around the world.

The Cash Box Kings play major festivals across the U.S. and Europe. No matter where they perform, they bring the music to fuel the party. Between Wilson’s natural blues vocal power and Nosek’s talent at wringing every last drop of emotion from his harmonica, they never fail to wow their longtime fans while earning new ones at every gig. Now, with tour dates scheduled throughout the year, The Cash Box Kings invite everyone to leave their worries at home and check into Oscar’s Motel, where the music is always just getting started.”