Watermelon Slim & the Workers - Reviews

 

Watermelon Slim & the Workers

 

"This is Watermelon Slim's debut for NorthernBlues and builds on his critically acclaimed Up Close And Personal album which I reviewed last year. He has toured constantly since and this has given him a toughness that is transparent on his new disc. Hard Times is a strong opener and confirms his status as one of the rising stars on the Blues scene. Driving drums from Michael Newberry and scorching slide guitar from Slim make this one of the best opening tracks that I have heard this year. Slim is a former truck driver and delves into his past with great regularity, Dumpster Blues being a case in point. This is electric blues of the first degree and The Workers, the aforementioned Newberry on drums, Ike Lamb on guitar and Cliff Belcher on bass, give great backing to Slim's affected vocal. The only out and out cover on the album is the classic Baby Please Don't Go. This has been covered so many times but Slim takes it back close to the original and turns in a great version. Devil's Cadillac is co-written by drummer Newberry and is a slow, rhythmic blues on a familiar theme. Slim cranks it up on the fast paced and good fun Check Writing Woman (recently played on Paul Jones' Radio 2 show). Possum Hand is a slow harmonica led blues instrumental, written by Ike Lamb. Slim shows that he can handle acoustic slide as well on Frisco Line which sounds like an authentic old time blues (apart from the drums), enough said.

"There's more than a bit of Robert Cray's style in
Ash Tray which is another electric slide song. He returns to his former employment again on Mack Truck, a fast paced Kansas style offering with excellent harmonica. Bad Sinner has brooding slide guitar as Slim reaches top form and his Dobro playing on Folding Money Blues is sheer class. You can just imagine him sitting on the front porch playing this. Juke Joint Woman is an up-tempo shuffler and Hard Labor is electric Chicago, showing that he and the band can play in many styles. They finish with Eau De Boue which is sung completely in French and tips its hat to Cajun. Fortunately, there is a full translation in the sleeve notes. Watermelon Slim continues to go from strength to strength. Catch him if you can."

-David Blues
Net Rhythms
April 2005 

 
   

"Thereís been a quiet buzz for a while now about Watermelon Slim and his new angle on old blues - or is it the other way round? Apart from a couple of thoughtfully rearranged standards, most of the songs on this CD, his first for an internationally distributed label, are original: The titles are ageless (Hard Times, Juke Joint Woman), but observations are contemporary, toughly expressed and wholly individual, as in Folding Money Blues, which reinvents Son House to comment on US fiscal policy. Slimís gruff, gnarled delivery locates him squarely in the vocal lineage of the blues, while his harmonica and slide guitar playing lead the Workers through the musical terrain of Delta and Chicago - but at their own speed, and with their own maps.4-stars (out of 5)"

-Tony Russell
Mojo
May 2006 

 
   

"Well the blues music industry better get ready for a band that has just released a new CD that is going to stir things up a bit. Watermelon Slim and The Workers have just cut one triumphant recording. This is blues above the best and will take any true blues fan on a magnificent musical trip into the debts of musical enjoyment. Killer just Killer."

-Roots Music Report
April 2006 

 
   

"Watermelon Slim learned to play slide guitar while laid up in an Army hospital (he was hurt in íNam). He had to play it backward (lefty) and use a Zippo as a slide. His first album, Merry Airbrakes, came out more than 32 years ago and, while incredible, went mostly unnoticed. He earned two masterís degrees (history and journalism) but had to truck industrial waste to pay student loans. Damn right, Watermelon Slimís got the blues.

"Even now that heís on his fourth album (his third in three years), a MENSA member, a W.C. Handy Award nominee and he tours instead of trucks, Slim (nee Bill Homans) still has a raging case of the blues.

"So here he sings of hauling stuff that 'smells just like the devilís bottom hole,' chasing his paper all over town, possibly losing his baby and being neck-deep in bullshit. His is a deep, bluesy brogue that cries, cautions, yarns, jokes and worships (the blues, its fathers, God and life on
Eau De Boue). He likewise plays his slide guitar - the amen to his words - in front of a crack band of bluesmen who can play jump, boogie, Delta, Chicago, Texas, zydeco, anything you want. And he still has the blues.

"But that doesnít mean the man is bummed out.

"The mark of a real bluesman is his ability, whether heís happy or sad to make any life experience sound like the sweet spot between heaven and hell. Watermelon Slim can do that like nobodyís business and
Watermelon Slim and the Workers is that real-life, real-blues sweet spot."

-Randy Harward
Harp Magazine
May 2006 

 
   

"Bill Homans (a.k.a. Watermelon Slim) is a Vietnam vet with a master's degree, two failed marriages, and years of experience as a watermelon farmer and a trucker. It's a colorfully idiosyncratic life, and it provides ample fodder for the blues created by the 56-year-old Slim on his third album since his late turn to full-time musician.

"Leading his road band through a raw, electric set - a switch from 2003's acoustic
Up Close and Personal - the slide-playing Slim deals with a whole mess of work, women and money trouble, putting fresh, sometimes humorous spins on these age-old subjects. He inhabits these blues in a way that earns him the right to place himself in a tradition that goes back to Muddy and Wolf, as he does in the set-ending "Eau de Boue" ("Muddy Waters"), where he sings, The music rolls like sweat from my skin, and has buried itself in the depths of my heart."

-N.C.
The Philadelphia Enquirer
March 26, 2006 

 
   

"Until the past few years Watermelon Slim's recorded output has been, well, slim. However, that just makes his self-named debut with his new band even more of a treasure. Simply put, "Watermelon Slim & The Workers" is one of the best modern blues albums in years. Although elements of Slim's (real name: Bill Homans) truck-driver-turned-blues singer persona border on caricature, his expert National Steel guitar playing and strong singing leave no doubt that Slim knows his blues. Following his 2005 solo acoustic album "Up Close and Personal," Slim and his new band perform this mix of sly originals (Homans also has earned several college degrees and is a MENSA member) and well-chosen covers with the loud, authoritative delivery of the best Muddy Waters and Albert King. Among the many highlights are the utterly convincing "Bad Sinner," the jumping "Juke Joint Woman," the rhythmic variations of "Ash Tray" and "Devil's Cadillac," and the solo acoustic "Folding Money Blues," a song so authentic and timeless that it sounds as if it could have been recorded in the 1930s. This is the album that hip blues fans familiar with Homans' work so far have been waiting for him to make. When fans talk about his music in years to come, like Muddy Waters' "Hard Again" album or B.B. King's song "The Thrill is Gone," this is the one they will talk about."

-Mark Wilson
The Evansville Courier & Press
February 17, 2006  

 
   

"Former truck driver and Vietnam veteran Bill Homans, aka Watermelon Slim, and his touring band, the Workers, sound like they're trying to conjure ZZ Top on this raunchy, high-energy CD. The derivative sound might mean there's no trailblazing on Slim's third album in four years, and first for Canada's NorthernBlues.

"But Slim rides the blues highway in style, proving adept at harmonica, dobro and slide guitar. The instrumentation and live-in-the-studio production by Chris Wick set this album apart from countless other Southern-fried boogie bands." 3 out of 4 stars

-Jeff Johnson
Chicago Sun-Times
March 5, 2006 

 
   

"Watermelon Slimís Bill Homans was originally the only Vietnam veteran to have recorded a protest LP during the war; two years ago he triumphantly rejoined the blues scene after quitting his full-time job as an Oklahoma industrial waste truck driver. This is his third full-length studio album since then, and itís my favourite album of 2006 so far. (Granted itís only February, but still!)

"Itís very, very hard to find fault with this CD: The production values are dead-on. The tracklist is well arranged. The instrumental backing, provided by a core of immensely talented musicians, is absolutely perfect. Watermelon Slim himself is captivating when singing and completely awe-inspiring when firing up the lead guitar or the harmonica.

"This is 52-minutes of authentic, deliciously traditional Mississippi Delta-style blues. To give you some idea of how much I love this album, my only rankings when going over it track-by-track were
awesome, very awesome or AWESOME written in capital letters. If youíre a big fan of the blues, an on-again-off-again fan of the blues, or even somebody who just likes being drunk and/or grumpy every so often, I canít think of a reason not to purchase this album. On the other hand, if you donít like blues in the slightest, then fine - but Iím telling you, youíre missing out on this one!" 4½ out of 5

-James Howard
The Manitoban
March, 2006 

 
   

"Until the past few years Watermelon Slim's recorded output has been, well, slim. However, that just makes his self-named debut with his new band even more of a treasure. Simply put, "Watermelon Slim & The Workers" is one of the best modern blues albums in years.

"Although elements of Slim's (real name: Bill Homans) truck-driver-turned-blues singer persona border on caricature, his expert National Steel guitar playing and strong singing leave no doubt that Slim knows his blues.

"Following his 2005 solo acoustic album "
Up Close and Personal," Slim and his new band perform this mix of sly originals (Homans also has earned several college degrees and is a MENSA member) and well-chosen covers with the loud, authoritative delivery of the best Muddy Waters and Albert King. Among the many highlights are the utterly convincing "Bad Sinner," the jumping "Juke Joint Woman," the rhythmic variations of "Ash Tray" and "Devil's Cadillac," and the solo acoustic "Folding Money Blues," a song so authentic and timeless that it sounds as if it could have been recorded in the 1930s.

"This is the album that hip blues fans familiar with Homans' work so far have been waiting for him to make. When fans talk about his music in years to come, like Muddy Waters' "
Hard Again" album or B.B. King's song "The Thrill is Gone," this is the one they will talk about."

-Mark Wilson
The Evansville Courier & Press
February 17, 2006 

 
   

"A near fatal heart attack makes a waste hauling Viet Nam vet realize life is too short and he takes off in pursuit of his dream of being a bluesman. Is this a great back story or what? Oh, yeah, he really does feel the blues as well. With the kind of passionate blues attack that you wont find in some frat band of wannabes, Slim and his gang have come out of virtual nowhere to land some Handy nominations and impress a tough to impress crowd. If you love the blues, this guy is more than a novelty act and repeated exposure is sure to make a believer out of you. Hot stuff that comes from an unexpected place and makes itself right at home."

-Midwest Record Recap
February, 2006 

 
   

"Watermelon Slim and his band are based out of Oklahoma. This the only artist I can think of that rivals Paul DeLay for sheer artisty in making a statement and anyone who knows me can tell you that is the highest compliment. They've recently been making quite a name for themselves thanks to relentless touring, CDs, and a recent Handy award.

"Slim was one the first Vietnam veterans to record an LP about his war experiences,
Merry Airbrakes. Slim's (aka Bill Homans) last excellent CD was a strictly Country Blues affair, this CD is coming from a much more modern approach. Slim sings, writes almost every song, plays excellent harp and slide guitar, and has produced an album rivaling his last on all counts. It's easily his best electric work.

"
Hard Times" kicks into gear a list of life's travails and it sounds like tough times for old Slim. "Dumpster Blues" is a vocal history of one of his many workingman's types of employment.

"
Baby Please Don't Go" is the only standard on this CD, but Slim turns it into his own. This guy is a hell of a stone Blues singer. This dude's got soul, no doubt.

"
Frisco Line" is more in the Fred McDowell vain, like his last release. "Ash Tray" is the best-written song on the disc, in this writer's opinion, a tale of love and loss that could only be written by someone who's been around awhile. "Bad Sinner" is a Blues with Slim playing his slide guitar like a cross between a slow version of Johnny Winter and Lowell George, with some Muddy thrown in for tough tone.

"
Folding Money Blues" is a clever tune about which presidents are missing from Slim's billfold. What's he gonna write about if he hits the big time? A couple more tunes remain, including a tune about Homan's Blues idols sung in French (because it's on a Canadian label?) called "Eau De Boue." It's very commendable that a modern Blues label like NorthernBlues signed an artist who is so aware of what Blues is about and where it comes from! Kudos to them, and to Slim, for such a heartfelt release."

-Mark Hummel
BluesWax
March 1, 2006 

 
   

"The cover of the third disc from Northern Blues features a scary-looking guy with a straw hat and a string tie. That's Watermelon Slim. Turns out he was the only Vietnam veteran to release an album of protest songs while the war was still going on. Now some 30 years later he turns in his most recent album of blues music. And quite an album it is! It starts with some potent drums and a stinging slide guitar, then Watermelon Slim comes in with a voice that's deep and experienced. Cool.

"The band are called the Workers, and for good reason. They put out the effort to keep this music moving. Michael Newberry (drums), Ike Lamb (guitars), Cliff Belcher (bass) and Mr. Slim hisownself on slide guitar and dobro (and harp) are joined by Dennis Borycki on piano and they make a powerful unit. Whether rocking out on opener "
Hard Times" or the slow blues of "Possum Hand" they find a groove and work it out. This is some of the tastiest blues I've heard in a while. Apparently Watermelon Slim was out of the music scene for a long while, but a near-fatal heart attack gave him a new perspective, and he decided that driving around playing the blues was better than driving industrial waste around Oklahoma to disposal sites. I think I agree with him, especially if this is an example of what he can do!"

-David Kidney
Green Man Review
February, 2006 

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"Watermelon Slim and The Workers are electrifying southern blues; their album radiates with drive and energy rare amongst studio performers. According to most accounts, Slim is more that an audience pleaser; he leaves every audience standing and cheering.

"Watermelon Slim & The Workers have a playful atmosphere to their music as well as a serious streak, on top of that the group is tight. They aren't tight in a manufactured way either, they are tight like only a dedicated hard working band can be. The tracks to listen to on this album are "
Hard Times," "Dumpster Blues," "Ash Tray," "Folding Money Blues" and "Hard Labor": that's about a quarter of the album, but the whole album is great, no filler. Slim and his band have something together. They know blues and play it as if it was goin' out of style."
Sean's Single of The Week: "Dumpster Blues"

-The John Shelton Ivany Top Twenty-One
February 2- February 9, 2006 - Issue: #257

 
   

"Watermelon Slim sings with the grit of one whoís been there, done that, and whoís still waitiní for the world to prove to him that life is fair. You do what you have to, right? And Slim has done it all. He taught himself to play slide guitar during his stay in an army hospital while serving in Vietnam. Later, he earned a Masterís degree in history, only to find out that the economy didnít do teachers the kind of justice that we all hoped for. He was a watermelon farmer and then a truck driver. Eventually, his twelve years behind the wheel spawned quite a few interesting trucker stories.

"Slim sings convincingly and drives each message home with his searing slide guitar, dobro and harp. "
Ash Tray" asks the question, "why me?" Through feelings of loneliness and regret, while "Check Writing Woman" expresses concern for how we get by from payday to payday. Theyíre familiar subjects that remain near and dear to all of us. The band interprets both with a fiery attack and full rhythm support. Slim colors one song with harp and one with slide guitar, giving different moods for each story. Whether we settle for a tough guy attitude for sit crying in our beer, the result is the same. Itís a classic blues formula.

"His clear voice and passionate interpretation give "
Devilís Cadillac" a thrilling outlook. Itís the kind of situation that everybody can feel a part of. The band gives this one a firm foundation. You can feel the music going right through you, as Slim tells about making a deal with the devil and what price is going to be paid. Several selections interpret roots blues with an earthy texture, while most of the session features Slimís convincing vocals in a variety of situations. Recommended, the album spreads a universal blues message that travels all across America and beyond."

-Jim Santella
February 2006
Southland Blues

 
   

"You could see this one coming. Watermelon Slim's last album, 2004's sparse and arresting Up Close & Personal, revealed a contemporary bluesman with a scholar's understanding of the genre and a truly skewed, passionate approach to performing it that hinted at even deeper possibilities. Watermelon Slim & the Workers is the payoff. The sound on this record (which was produced by Chris Wick, who also plays bass on one of the tracks) is simply huge, and yet Slim's songs and field holler vocals keep it all appropriately intimate, making this release one of the best contemporary blues albums in years. On the surface Slim (his real name is Bill Homans) seems always to be working on the edge of parody, but this ex-truck driver who is also a member of MENSA (and owns several university degrees) is after bigger things. His passion for the blues makes these songs pulse with a gospel-like joy and intensity, and his new band the Workers gives him the kind of raggedly perfect backdrop to make it all slam home. Beginning with the opener, the shuffling and stomping "Hard Times," things never let up through the loose-limbed "Dumpster Blues," the spooky "Devil's Cadillac" (which sounds a bit like a revamped take on Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You"), the revealing and convincing "Bad Sinner," and the rolling rhythms of "Juke Joint Woman." One of the highlights on an album that is filled with them is a version here of Fred McDowell's "Frisco Line," which Slim and company tackle like they're on a careening blues train, and while Slim isn't quite the fluid slide guitar player that McDowell was, he's still darn good. This remarkable set is capped off by the closing "Eau de Boue," which outlines Slim's passionate devotion and commitment to the blues, and since he is perhaps the smartest ex-truck driver to ever sing this stuff, Slim sings it in French, maybe just because he can. For Watermelon Slim the blues isn't so much a musical genre as it is a calling, and beyond that, a shot at redemption. This guy is the real deal, and this is a great album."

-Steve Leggett
All Music Guide
January, 2006 

 
   

"You have to wonder what the deal is with Watermelon Slim as soon as you see a picture of the guy and realize he isn't an old African American guy from Mississippi.

"But you'd be hard pressed to tell without the Tom Waits-like cover shot to this new disc, released on Canada's Northern Blues. Unlike many of his nickname-grabbing ilk, Slim is the real deal. There just aren't many artists out there, from the Delta or otherwise, putting out albums this superb.

"The liner notes have one thing quite wrong, however. They suggest that Slim's work makes him "original." In fact, what this is, is good, solid blues of a type that used to be quite common but these days becomes harder and harder to find amid a sea of "roots" artists who just don't project the underlying soul required to make the blues feel right.

"This is the kind of record that would've impressed Muddy Waters. And around 35 years ago, Muddy told an interviewer it would be a century at least before a white singer "got it" enough to sing the blues like he did. The first two tracks alone, Hard Times and Dumpster, are solid and passionate enough to have been classics from Waters's era.

"It doesn't hurt that he writes clever, tale-laden lyrics about life's hard times, a frame of reference lost on many modern blues performers who fall back on song after song about bad love. Slim is done wrong by a cheque kiter, sells his soul inadvertently for a better deal, evades state patrols with his dumpster truck, grabs a boxcar out of town, and stares into a full ashtray as he contemplates the occasional emptiness of life.

"The common bond that originally linked blues artists was the weight of their burdens, done in as they were by Jim Crow and second-class citizenship. How a white guy from Boston whose hobby is Elizabethan drama managed to tap into that I'll never know. But 30 years as a musician and truck driver - putting the lie to his 'best new artist' award nominations - probably had something to do with it.
5 out of 5"

-Jeremy Loome,
Edmonton Sun
January 22, 2006 

 
   

"The only logical explanation for the raw and weathered sound of Watermelon Slim (aka Bill Homans) is that he is a leftover cousin of the Joads who has been sitting for decades on the porch of an Oklahoma shack outside the conventions of the modern world. Nothing else makes sense of his originality. His vocals slur, his slide guitar slashes and his harmonica wails blues according to his own definition.

This is not contrived or wannabe blues - it's a colleged-educated, Vietnam War veteran who has been chronically underemployed and under-recognized expressing his feelings in the truest and most direct way he knows. Every nuance of his music is authentic, from his song about Mack trucks to one about the lacking of folding bills to his fateful ride in the devil's Cadillac. 3.5 stars out of 4"

-Michael Kinsman
San Diego Union-Tribune
January 12, 2006

 
   

"I first listened to this CD while welding and working in my shop, then while driving and now at my computer, it sounds good anywhere. Slim's writing and singing has a style of his own but has that familiar classic blues sound, it's the sound of a real experienced bluesman pouring his soul out in music."

-Chris Puyear
moblues.org
December 2005

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"Watermelon Slim has found a new way to be traditional. His music is modern and downhome at the same time. Anybody that likes blues will get a kick out of this."

-Charlie Musselwhite Grammy Awardwinning blues legend

"Initially, the blues integrated both the rhythmic patterns of field hollers and their subject matter to form a unique sound. Without sacrificing authenticity, Watermelon Slim has updated this art form's profile to reflect a new millennium."

-Beardo, Blueswax Senior Contributing Editor
www.bandanablues.com