In the past couple of years Watermelon Slim and his band The Workers have really taken the blues world by storm. Last year they racked up six nominations for the Blues Music Awards (a feat matched only by B.B. King, Buddy Guy, and Robert Cray), as well as a host of accolades from fans and critics alike.
Slim and his crew are far from being overnight sensations. In fact, probably the only way you could take a longer way to stardom would be to die first and then make your come back. And that is nearly what happened to Watermelon Slim.
In 2002 Slim suffered a near fatal heart-attack. The brush with death gave him a new perspective and served to give direction to a life that had already many turns. Over the course of the last 30 plus years he has fought in Vietnam, been a truck driver, firewood salesman, an official at funeral, as well as an Oklahoma watermelon farmer. While he still resides in Oklahoma, he no longer farms watermelons for a living; a great thing for us.
The Wheelman is the fourth album by Watermelon Slim and the second with the Workers and in my opinion, just as good if not better than the first. These guys are authentic blues musicians; old school, been through it all and it shows in the way they perform both at their shows, and on the CD.
From the first of "The Wheel Man" you get the feel of what this CD is all about. It is about the blues. The interaction of Magic Slim with Watermelon Slim is timeless. "I've Got News" rocks the blues with a bit of swing for good measure. "Black Water" has a real Delta/Bayou rhythm. You can almost hear a bit of "Born on the Bayou" guitar sound playing off the slide leads.
"Jimmy Bell" is nothing but a bass drum, harmonica, and Watermelon Slims almost a cappella. You don't need anymore, do you? "Newspaper Reporter" laments that he was not able to drink beer on the job. This is a slow piano blues that really tinkles the old ivories. "Drinking and Driving" transitions to a driving beat that picks up the pace with its lively harmonica solos.
"Fast Eddie" keeps the momentum going, but downshift's a gear, grinds a little, and gets back to the slide work. "Sawmill Holler" is pure a cappella. "Truck Driving Mama" kicks it back in gear and is cruisin' down the highway with guitar leads interspersed with some low key piano leads. "I Know One" does not slow down; a traditional blues with a nice harmonica lead.
"Got Love If You Want It" kicks it back down a notch with a rough edge hard enough to peal paint off the rocker. But that leads back into the energy of "Rattlesnake," a harmonica and piano energized blues rocker. "Peaches" revisits that bayou music sound of Black Water. The CD finishes up with "Judge Harsh Blues" that takes us back to the days of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and all the traditional blues masters; a guitar and a voice.
There is just not a bad song on the album. Each one has you wanting more and when you are done, you want to listen again. When you stop listening, the tunes just go on in your head.
If you want a taste of what real blues are made of; if you wish you could go back and listen to what the masters of the blues sounded like, you need to look no father than The Wheelman. This is no spruced up CD with clean floors and nice curtains. This has the sawdust at your feet and the smoke that will take three washings to get out of your clothes. This is the real deal.