Watermelon Slim And The Workers – The Wheel Man
This Oklahoma City singer and slide guitarist is at the creative apex of traditional blues. He took the roundabout route to get there--fighting in the jungles of Vietnam, officiating at funerals, and working as a trucker, forklift operator, saw miller, firewood salesman, and collection agent until a near-fatal heart attack compelled him to find his calling as a bandleader in 2002. Slim's fourth album since then is even sharper than 2006's critically heralded breakthrough Watermelon Slim & the Workers. It's a devil's playground for his weathered-oak voice and Delta-fueled six-stringing, full of stories of crime ("The Wheel Man"), lust ("Peaches"), and sin ("Jimmy Bell"). For Slim, that's par for the course, but this time he's drafted Chicago blues stalwart Magic Slim for a terse, burnished solo and vocal turns on the title tune and piano great David Maxwell to make three other numbers sparkle and jump. Yet some of the most compelling songs, like the howling a cappella "Jimmy Bell" and the slide 'n' vocal turn "Judge Harsh Blues" are Watermelon Slim alone. And that's enough. His sound and his soul are packed with true, natural grit.
Watermelon Slim is THE HOTTEST name in Blues right now with a total of SIX Blues Music Award Nominations in 2007 including Entertainer of the Year, Band of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year, and Traditional Blues Album of the Year. The Wheel Man features Magic Slim and Dave Maxwell as special guests.
1. The Wheel Man - 4:21 2. I've Got News - 2:54 3. Black Water - 4:12 4. Jimmy Bell - 2:58 5. Newspaper Reporter - 5:56 6. Drinking & Driving - 2:17 7. Fast Eddie - 3:24 8. Sawmill Holler - 2:47 9. Truck Driving Mama - 2:51 10. I Know One - 2:23 11. Got Love If You Want It - 3:04 12. Rattlesnake - 3:20 13. Peaches - 3:38 14. Judge Harsh Blues - 3:22
Watermelon Slim (vocals, harp, dobro slide guitar, percussion) , Michael Newberry (drums, backing vocals, percussion) , Ronnie ‘Mack’ McMullen (electric guitar, backing vocals) , Cliff Belcher (electric bass, backing vocals) , Ike Lamb (electric guitar) , Magic Slim (duet vocals, guitar on 1) , Dennis Borycki (piano on 9,12) , David Maxwell (piano on 2,5,6)
1. AllMusic - Steve Leggett
The blues has always been an enigma. A music that expresses deeply personal emotions, it does so with a well-worn collection of repeated phrases, rhymes, and floating verses that are nothing short of community property. It is also a music of constriction, with a conservative set of stock progressions and riffs that make innovations to the genre extremely difficult. The resulting familiarity of all of this is what makes the blues what it is, personal yet general, individual yet communally held, a music that if it were any more blue collar it would be the deep blue sea itself. How on earth does one bring something fresh to this genre in the 21st century without tipping the whole cart over on its side? Bill Homans, or Watermelon Slim, as he is known these days, seems to have found an answer by looking backward all the way to the field holler and looking over sideways to country music, rolling it all up into a smart synthesis that sounds fresh and sharp even though it is only a half-step removed from the sounds of Charley Patton or Jimmie Rodgers. The Wheel Man, Slim's second album for the Northern Blues imprint following 2006's magnificent Watermelon Slim & the Workers, isn't as striking as the previous offering, mainly because it is cut from the same exact cloth, but it also isn't a fall off, either, and the two releases taken together make a seamless arc. A former truck driver who just happens to own several university degrees and is a member of MENSA, Slim is his own walking enigma, and he manages to tread the line amazingly between what is blue collar and what is blues academia again on this album, beginning with the lead and title track, a duet with Magic Slim (do two Slims make for one Extra Large?) on the dilemma of making a sane life out of long-haul trucking, which itself becomes a blues metaphor for steering through life. "Sawmill Holler" is just that, a work holler that is both a cathartic release and a way to focus in on the tasks at hand. The harmonica and foot-stomp-driven "Jimmy Bell" is old-fashioned storytelling done without any fancy modern recording tricks. There are a pair of impressive blues covers here, too, an Okie rendition of Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It" and a solo acoustic take on Furry Lewis' "Judge Harsh Blues." But it is Slim's Oklahoma twang that binds everything together, and it reminds that there was a time when the blues and country music drank side by side from the same river. Two of the best songs here, the wise, humorous, and carefully subtle "Drinking & Driving" and the raggedly stomping "Rattlesnake," could be all over country radio if the people who programmed that stuff really had a clue to what real country music is. Jimmie Rodgers (who never gets played on country radio -- even though without Rodgers the format might not even exist) was the singing brakeman who loved the blues, and Watermelon Slim, the singing truck driver who also loves the blues, seem cut from the same cultural remnants. Slim's smart enough to know it, too. Which is fine. He drives that truck well.
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