You ever wonder what people are implying when they refer to a band or a performer as "hardworking"? Don't all bands work hard in one way or another? Sometimes I think it's almost an insult implying that the act in question doesn't have very much talent but they sure do try hard. Other times I wonder if it's an attempt to make them sound like "regular folk", who, like the rest of us, have to work for a living instead of leading the life of glamour.
The irony is that the majority of musicians don't lead anything remotely resembling a glamourous life style. If they're lucky they make enough money that they don't have to take a second job to make ends meet. Even to do that means spending large amounts of time being away from home, living out of motel rooms, setting up and taking down their equipment for each gig, and spending long hours on the road driving between shows. Sometimes that will mean not getting to bed until three in the morning after a gig and only getting a few hours sleep before having to spend hours driving to the next town.
On the other hand, there are some bands, and some individuals, who are able to to connect to their audiences in a way that others can't because of the feeling they generate. Sometimes it's the topics of the songs they choose to sing about, sometimes it's the way they sing them, and even rarer still are the ones who feel like they are singing with the voice of the audience. It's not much of a surprise that most of those who fall into the latter category are also blues musicians, as a great many of those performers have lived the hard scrabble lives that give them the experience required for that voice to ring true.
William P. Homans, better known as Watermelon Slim, front man of Watermelon Slim And The Workers, is a veteran of the Vietnam war who worked as everything from a journalist to a truck driver. He's not some pretty boy rock star, in fact you'd be generous to call him road weary and shop worn. His voice isn't what you'd call melodious, but it is the voice of a man who has experienced any number of ups and downs on the road that's carried him to his current destination, and the voice of a man you feel you can trust.
From the first to the last song on No Paid Holidays, released Tues. June 24th on the Northern Blues label, Watermelon Slim shows once again why his music is able to reach out and touch people hearts as well as their minds. It doesn't matter whether or not you are familiar with the topic or if he's singing about something you've experienced, he sings in such a manner that you can identify with it.
You're usually going find one or two songs on his discs that will ring true, and No Paid Holidays is no exception. I'm sure at one point in time everybody has been in the same predicament as the one described in "Call My Job". Staying out too late, and drinking too many the night before aren't a combination guaranteed to make you bright eyed and bushy tailed for work in the morning. "Call My Job" puts that experience into perspective. I don't know about anyone else, but the times I did that were when I had a job that I wasn't that keen on and was feeling frustrated with my life. Listening to this song I could hear all of those feelings reflected in the lyrics and in the way the song was being delivered.
While all the songs on No Paid Holidays are worth listening to, the one that stood out the most for me was Slim's version of the Laura Nyro tune "And When I Die". Years ago David Clayton Thomas and Blood, Sweat, & Tears had a hit with this song, doing it as an up-tempo, pop song with a full horn section. It was very dynamic and uplifting, much in the same way really good gospel music can carry you away. Instead of trying to compete with that, Slim has gone the opposite route and performs a nearly acappella version that is just as powerful in its simplicity.
I can't really put my finger on what it was about the way he sings it, but from the very first note to the last he had my complete attention. Unlike the Blood, Sweat, & Tears version which was very slick and polished, Watermelon's version is rough-hewn and raw, It sounds like each word is costing him, as he struggles to express what he needs to say about a subject that none of us really like to talk about. Yet, at the same time you can hear the dogged determination in his voice that says how important it is for him to say it. He sounds like anyone of us would sound trying to deal with something particularly difficult.
Watermelon Slim And The Workers may or may not be a hard working band, but I do know that they are musically one of the tightest bands you're liable to hear in any genre. On No Paid Holidays they are joined by special guests Dave Maxwell on piano for a couple of cuts and Lee Roy Parnell on electric slide guitar for "Bubba's Blues". Yet, what makes this band, and Watermelon Slim in particular, so distinctive isn't what they do, but how they do it.
In the early days of modern theatre, back in the middle ages, they used to do performances of religious plays featuring a character called "Everyman" who represented all of humanity. It's a ridiculous conceit to think that one person can represent the experiences of a whole species, but a person can speak with a voice that is familiar enough that we all recognize at least some of what he's saying. No Paid Holidays proves once again that Watermelon Slim can sing a song in such a way that nearly anybody can identify with it. He and the Workers can rock the house and break your heart, and do it in a way that we can all understand.