The Cash Box Kings,
Black Toppin'
(Blind Pig, 2013)

If the Cash Box Kings woke up one morning and discovered they were in 1955 Chicago, they'd think the mother ship had picked them up and taken them home. These guys love the old stuff; to them, Delta blues, jump blues, old-time down home r&b and even Sun Records rockabilly is current music.

They play it all, love it all, but never sink into a nostalgia trip. Rather than simply reproducing the sound of another era, they interpret it, giving it their own twist, reinventing the tradition while respecting it. The results are brilliant. And just so much fun.

The title song, "Black Toppin'," is a Memphis rockabilly-blues number that has semi-spoken verses against a sung chorus. In it, the singer explains to his friend that he's going black toppin' and then spends the rest of the song explaining to his uncomprehending friend exactly what black toppin' is. It sounds like a hundred tunes that used to emanate from jukeboxes all over the country, but it also sounds exactly like the Cash Box Kings. "Money, Marbles & Chalk" is a Muddy Waters-style blues ballad, with Little Walter-style harp all over it, whereas "My Tina," which follows, is uptempo Chicago blues. Other tunes feature Big Joe Turner-style jump blues. Although most of the songs are originals, there's also a Velvet Underground cover and a Willie Dixon tune.

It's tempting to see the Cash Box Kings as a blast from the past, but that myopic view doesn't account for the skill, talent and musicianship they bring to the party. These guys are good; that's all there is to it. Their's is good-time music, the sort of stuff that's disappearing from our musical palate as the generation that created and popularized it dies off. The Cash Box Kings not only keep it alive, they thrust it into the future.

music review by
Michael Scott Cain

11 May 2013

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