PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Watermelon Slim and the Workers: The Wheel Man

Veteran blues reviver, field hollers alternate with harmonica or slide guitar. Always real!


Watermelon Slim and the Workers

The Wheel Man

Label: Northern Blues
US Release Date: 2007-02-14
UK Release Date: 2007-03-26
Amazon
iTunes

Also known as Bill Homans, as far as government agencies are concerned, the acutely talented Slim is a Vietnam Vet with academic qualifications whose lengthy tenure in a bluecollar day job (readers should appreciate that I am paraphrasing published information sources) was terminated following a heart attack.

Some time back, I reviewed a sampler CD on the Northern Blues label with a title something like “The Future of the Blues.” I did not like its muddle of overproduction, or the implication that the future of the blues was a stylistic pop mishmash with a few old echoes. I mention this only to be clear that the present set is nothing of the kind, but is the work of a talented enthusiast dedicated to doing things worth doing, taking the risk that it might no longer be possible to do them.

Apparently, they are possible, or at least Slim is one of the people who can do them. There might be something to the statement in a blurb on the CD case that Slim’s a white Okie singer whose repertoire includes blues items performed in blues style. The legacy of recordings going back to the 1920s isn’t short on cases of the same -- Tony Russell has written about this in Blacks, Whites, and Blues and elsewhere -- and more recent examples of this have made interesting encounters for a European longtime blues enthusiast. This is, however, mostly blues with only the occasional flourishes of anything other.

The CD’s title means something like Big Wheel. The drawing on the CD case suggests that, like the Texan bluesmen Oscar Woods and the Black Ace (hear the latter’s excellent 1960s album on Arhoolie), when Slim plays slide guitar he’s sitting down with the instrument laid flat across his thighs. There are some Okie or Bob Wills echoes on the opener and title track, despite the presence of Magic Slim, throwing in a few vocal lines and playing electric guitar on an overall stirring performance. Slim’s classy harmonica playing makes the second track well worth a listen, and on the third and another couple of tracks, the quality is much enhanced by the solid, Otis Spann-influenced piano of another guest, David Maxwell. “Black Water” is a more recent kind of blues number, general rhythm and timing more post-B.B. King, but more excellent slide guitar.

And then there’s the entirely solo “Jimmy Bell”, with Slim’s harmonica and a very good vocal in style with the field holler or work song basis of the item. Its source is the field recordings by the obscure Cat Iron, and it’s followed by another of the numbers with Maxwell, Slim doing a Muddy Waters thing on “Newspaper Reporter”, beginning each verse speaking, and ending in a hollering singing. “Drinking and Driving” skids right into Ole Opry, “Fast Eddie” brings back the slide guitar, and then “Sawmill Holler” is just that, with no accompaniment nor any need of one, and the man’s voice ringing mightily. Inspired inclusion delivered with passion.

A couple of rockin’ blues, this whole thing is like the programme of a good live set, and then the distinctive rhythm of Slim Harpo’s “I Got Love if You Want It”, a number whose initial recording had some sales beyond its native enclave, and which Slim does in his own way, demonstrating his own harmonica playing’s merits. The harmonica wails again on a rockin' “Rattlesnake”, and somebody gets to shine on guitar on “Peaches” at a tempo variously described on different occasions as musically interesting or dangerous to morality. Then there’s the slide guitar working without a steady rhythmic correlation in support of Slim’s delivery of a classic 1920s number, the “Judge Harsh Blues” of the Memphis slide guitar ace Furry Lewis, who toward the end of his life appeared briefly as the sentimentalized “Uncle Furry” in a Burt Reynolds movie which didn’t deny connections between country white musicians (Dixie Dance Kings) and bluesmen.

More power to Watermelon Slim! Though he has plenty enough here!

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.