OSCAR’S MOTEL The Cashbox Kings (Alligator) ****
The spirit of Howlin’ Wolf is alive and well, thanks to The Cashbox Kings’ new record. Oscar’s Motel, their 11th overall and 3rd for this label, is raw Chicago blues, old school stuff at its best. In terms of authenticity there are few bands that can touch The Cashbox Kings.
The band is co-led by Oscar Wilson at the mic, who is 20 years senior to harmonica assassin/ singer Joe Nosek. Guitarist Billy Flynn, drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, bassist John W. Lauler and keyboardist Kanehira fill in the rest of this intoxicating magical blues brew with real panache. Oscar’s Motel was recorded in Chicago and produced by Nosek, and the band made some important decisions before heading into the studio. “We decided to put aside everyday problems and have a bit more fun” Joe says. “So no songs about Covid and this time nothing too political. Our goal was to have (this) be a celebration, an open invitation to leave your troubles behind and have a carefree, downhome good time.”
The band made their bones with razor-sharp original songs along with reinventing obscure blues classics, what AllMusic calls “an enthusiastic celebration of Chicago blues in all its electric forms.” With Wilson’s deep growling voice and Nosek’s searing harmonica work at the fore, Oscar’s Motel is like time traveling back to the 50’s and 60’s and witnessing the emotional genius of the blues masters first hand. For every song like Please Have Mercy the CBK seek to lighten your emotional burden with a track like I Want What Chaz Has. The emotional peaks and valleys lyrically along with a surprising variation musically speaking within the typically narrow confines of the genre, between rockin’ Chuck Berry-like numbers and the slower emotional stuff , you’d be hard pressed to find a better party record.
Fans of hard, modern electric blues might find this vibe too ‘vintage’, but if you want something to take you all the way back home, I can scarcely think of a better album than Oscar’s Motel. It is records like this that put visiting Chicago near the top of my bucket list, that’s for sure.
HOT TRACKS: Oscar’s Motel, I Want What Chaz Has, Please Have Mercy
EQUINOX Geminiidragon (Nepotism Recordings) ****
It’s hardly a secret that the blues gave birth to many different genres of music, and many of them have come to play on Geminiidragon’s second album. Equinox is an evocative blend of blues, classic rock, soul and sumptuous grooves- a hypnotic blend.
Geminiidragon is a relatively fresh face to the blues scene, a vocal dynamo from the murky bayous of Louisiana with songs to sing and stories to tell. She lists many of the influences you would expect like Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray, Koko Taylor and even Zeppelin, with Jimi Hendrix being yet another. Sister Switchblade, the album opener, is a bit of a nod to the blues rock movement of the late 60’s. “I’m a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix, especially his Band Of Gypsies window of time” she says. And it shows, in the most glorious ways, throughout. Her inherited talent and love of an eclectic collage of music from her parents that spans several decades and genres can be heard and felt throughout the album.
Though Equinox is powered by the blues, I have difficulty thinking of it as a strictly blues album. There’s some soulful grooving going on here and psychedelic rock muscle being flexed too. It feels like the kind of record Lenny Kravitz would love to make. The album was recorded at The Beatrice Studios and LaShangrila Studios, produced by The Haterz and engineered by Maxx Soversen. Geminiidragon’s band includes Christian Simeon on guitars, Dougie V on bass, E Sass on drums, and La La Thomas on backing and harmony vocals. The album has a lively, rough-edged feel to it which serves the song well; a clean, pristine sound just wouldn’t be right- that would’ve cut the nuts right off of the songs.
Equinox is a ferocious blend of blues, rock and soul, and everything in between… the deeper you get into this thing, the further you want to go. Come on and take the ride.
HOT TRACKS: Sister Switchblade, Hands Of Time, Ballad of Willie Mae & George
DESERT DRIVE-IN The Weezil Malone Band (independent/ weezwords) *** ½
Greasy, semi-dirt bag rock ‘n’ blues, and that’s a compliment… that’s how The Weezil Malone Band’s latest album hits you. Desert Drive-In. is muscle-y, electric guitar driven blues with plenty of slide and a rock edge with a bit of an R&B flair that’s hard not to like.
Michigan continues to produce great music, from the days of The MC 5, Bob Seger and Grand Funk Railroad to today, with The Weezil Malone Band. No idea how they came up with that name, but it kind of prepares you for the raucous good time you might expect at one of their gigs. The band is a trio; Larry Fitzgerald on guitar and vocals, Dave Alves on bass and Karl Schantz behind the kit. At its root this album is a collection of simple storytelling songs, driven mainly by Fitzgerald’s tough blues shout and the way he handles his Les Paul. Produced by Fitzgerald it’s not the smoothest sounding record you’ll come across, but what he’s done really fits the personality of the songs, particularly Tattoo Lady and Children Of The Night. It has the same spirit and feel of so many of those great Detroit rock records we love from the 70’s.
Unlike many bands of regional renown, The Weezil Malone Band eschews cover tunes in favor of playing original material. All the songs on Desert Drive-In were written by Larry Fitzgerald, which the press write-up calls “stories about the ironies of life and the people we cross on our journey. The message is that there is more to all of us than just the image we portray, there’s a moral to find in every story or another layer to discover in the characters.” There’s a similar feel to many of the songs here, but when TWMB throw a change-up like the title track with its slinky, adventurous bassline- nice work, Dave- it really stands out. The sparseness of the number really works in its favor as it paints an evocative image from every angle.
Desert Drive-In is a tasteful but rowdy, solid record and, like I said at the top, hard not to like.
HOT TRACKS: Desert Drive-In, All over Again, Tattoo Lady
WHAT KEY IS TROUBLE IN? Nick Schnebelen (VizzTone) *****
Is that the perfect name for a blues album or what? What Key Is Trouble In is a high energy blues record with a rock & roll profile. With a smoky voice born to sing the blues and a tight, self-assured guitar playing style he’s crafted a record that will knock you out.
Trouble is 13 original songs that find Schnebelen writing, singing and playing at the top of his considerable game. He’s backed here by his band; drummer Adam Hagerman and bassist Cliff Moore who swing with confidence and style, plus a number of special guests. I must congratulate producer Chris Hardwick too, along with Nick, for finding the right timbre for this thing; a tough, brawny mix that still allows the details of fine playing to shine through.
Nick first came to the attention of the blues world in 2008 as a founding member of Kansas City’s Trampled Under Foot. The band won the International blues Challenge that year, with Nick Schnebelen claiming the Albert King award as best guitarist… so if you’re a blues guitar freak as so many of us are, What Key Is Trouble In will be a real treat for you. I’ve said often in reviews that, when it comes to music, you can judge people by the company they keep and that certainly goes for Nick and his band. Recently they’ve been touring the U.S. and Europe as the opening act for George Thorogood & The Destroyers, and if their brand of rock style blues appeals to you then this disc will too, in a big way.
As a guitar player Nick Schnebelen is a cross between Stevie Ray and Jimmy Page; his playing is expressive and exciting with a rich, beefy tone that pushes you around. What Key Is Trouble In blurs the line between the blues and rock & roll to the point where the differences no longer matter, and you won’t care. This baby flat-out ROCKS.
HOT TRACKS: Big Mean Dog, Ten Years After Fifty Years Later, Hard Driving Woman