People are always surprised to hear that I like country music. I'm not sure what a country music fan is supposed to look like, but whatever it is I'd hazard a guess that I don't fit the image. On the other hand the country music I tend to like isn't the stuff one hears on the radio on a regular basis, so maybe that explains a good deal of people's confusion. For as far as I'm concerned the stuff that gets passed off as country music on the radio these days is just so much sentimental twaddle which shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as music written by Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Graham Parsons, and Emmylou Harris.
I don't seem to the only one dissatisfied with the rhinestone and Stetson crowd either as in recent years there's been a resurgence of interest in, for lack of a better word, traditional country music. Whether it's people rediscovering the joys of an old Hank Williams tune, or new performers recording songs that harken back to the older sound, it appears people are finally getting sick of the plastic heart that beats at the centre of mainstream country. Oh they've created all sorts of new categories within which to slot this new stuff; Americana, alt-country, or even roots music; so they can keep calling the shlock on the radio country, but when you hear an album like Watermelon Slim's new release, Escape From The Chicken Coop, on the Northern Blues label, there's no disguising who or what it really is.
Now most of you probably know Watermelon Slim as a blues artist, one of the most well respected and awarded blues artists in recent memory as he's won almost every award offered to a contemporary blues performer at the Blues Music Awards for the last three years. However Bill Homans had a life before he became Watermelon Slim that included serving a stint in Vietnam (being the only veteran of the Vietnam war to release an album of protest music against the war), driving eighteen wheelers, picking watermelons (hence the stage name) and even some petty larceny for a while. It was the truck driving though that sounds like it was the worst and meanest of all those jobs at least in terms of the wear and tear it took on Slim.
Looking back at his history, the real surprise is that he hasn't recorded a country album before this. It may sound like a bit of cliche, but there's not many other genres that lend themselves to stories about the lonely life of an eighteen wheeler driver than country music. The problem is, of course, how much of a joke the country song about a trucker has become. However I'm betting that ninety percent of the songs that fed the joke weren't written by guys who ever sat behind the wheel of one of those behemoths, let alone drove loads of industrial waste for crooked bosses like Slim did.