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Watermelon Slim and the Workers
(Northern Blues Music NBM0032)
Review Date: October 2007
by Arthur Shuey
Bill Homans, aka “Watermelon Slim,” was grabbing the attention of jaded
critics before this record, and this record is a big step forward. He's
taken his previously outstanding sound, and plugged it in, filled it with
higher octane fuel, put it on steroids or [insert your own analogy for
expanding the power of something here].
Basically, he sounds like a mush-mouthed cracker singing and playing the
blues. At first listen, one thinks, “21st Century Ronnie Hawkins,” “21st
Century Jerry Lee Lewis” or “21st Century Billy C. Riley,” but he tacks some
elements onto their basic bandstand strategy. First, those ol' boys just
thought they were being unabashedly, stereotypically trailer trash when they
wore coonskin caps on stage and married their underage cousins, but they
couldn't hold a used corncob candle to Watermelon Slim's song, “Dumpster
Blues,” in which, from the viewpoint of the dump truck driver, he sings,
“This load is rotten, smells like the devil's bottom hole / I got to dump
this at the landfill, to save my dispatcher's soul.”
Second, the rockabilly rednecks of the '50s were promoting some of the
questionable outcomes of the Tennessee Valley Authority bringing electricity
to the rural South; they misused their amplifiers, hitting upon the happily
primal rock and roll sounds of feedback, distortion and grunge when their
original purpose was just to turn up to the level of heavy-handed,
self-taught drummers. Slim finds a delicate pocket for his harmonica that's
as barbaric as anything on record, but still sends out discernible single
notes at need, and, man, can he play ferocious harp ... like Howlin' Wolf if
he'd actually picked up technique and style as well as just rudiments when
he got those Mississippi saxophone lessons from his brother in-law, Rice
Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson 2).
Third, Watermelon Slim can write lyrics and music. These aren't just bleary
memories of whiskey-burned synapse firings from some guys with half the
vocabulary of Koko the gorilla; these are picaresque, Faulkner-esque tales
of life on the dirt road written by Koko the gorilla.
Stirring these general elements together, “Watermelon Slim and the Workers”
serves up a fourteen-course (14 cuts) meal that will be equally filling and
tasty to hardcore blues fans, followers of Southern Culture on the Skids and
everyone in between. If this record doesn't make it, it won't be because the
artist, the studio sidemen, the engineers, the label and this critic haven't
done everything in their power to let potential listeners know how good
Watermelon Slim is.
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