Watermelon Slim - The Wheel Man Reviews

 

The Wheel Man

 

"...Now Watermelon Slim has a very good back story for a blues artist. Real name Bill Homans, he did a tour of duty in Vietnam that ended in 1970. Following that, he made an anti-war album in 1973. From then on he was mostly a truck driver, though he was also a watermelon farmer (hence the name). But while he was doing those jobs, he got degrees in history and journalism and became a member of MENSA. So in a way heís a kind of hybrid in terms of the authenticity back story thing - part working-class hero, part intellectual. This isnít just a clever dick observation, itís hugely relevant to his music, because both those elements are there...

"...Slimís voice is singular thing. It sounds like the voice of a man with a mouthful of gums and not a whole heap of teeth. Itís a Ďhereís what I amí voice, not the voice of someone trying to sound like he thinks a blues singer should. Slim always sounds like someone whoís being himself. Itís a white manís voice too, not contorted in an attempt to sound black. He doesnít sing like anyone else, and he probably couldnít even if he wanted to - one of the definitions of a good blues singer.

"The bandís of the highest quality, too, and Slim appears to have found people of a variety of ages judging from the pictures, who get exactly what heís doing and can help him deliver it just right to the audience. Theyíre very tight, but not just competently so - theyíve got an edge and they pack a punch. Productionís a crucial issue when a blues artist is moving up a notch or two, from utter obscurity on a home-made or tiny label to established labels with a bit more money to devote to the project. It can go either way, and sadly it sometimes goes the wrong way, with the initial freshness and originality lost in a sludge of over-production that takes the excitement out and substitutes it with the workaday, a big sound mistaken for a good one. That hasnít happened to Slim. Heís got a big sound, for sure, but itís a good one and it suits him, because heís kept his roughness, so now itís a kind of well-recorded roughness that comes tearing out of the speakers at you..."

-Mark Harrison
BluesinLondon.com
March, 2008 

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"Why Water-melon Slim (aka Bill Holmans) is not as recognizable as Col. Sanders is a damn mystery. The Vietnam vet and former truck driver plays hard-charging blues on his fifth album, slathered with tasty Sweet Chicago barbecue and finger lickiní Delta cornbread rivaling any secret recipe the aforementioned huckster claimed as original. His band the Workers, now fleshed out to a cracker-jack four-piece, duly commands the steadfast rhythmic propulsion and provokes Slim to let the biscuits and gravy fly. From sizzling slide guitar on the stampeding, self-titled opener to nitty-gritty harp blowing worthy of Bud Spires (the fire-and-brimstone of Jimmy Bell) to a gruff, resonating Okie twang (the Negro spiritualism of Sawmill Holler and the mildly bawdy Truck Driving Mama), Slim delivers acutely personal workingman blues with both hands on the wheel of life, a bottle of hooch in his pocket, and the Bible on the passenger seat."

-Ron Bally
Harp Magazine,
June, 2007 

 
   

"The band's eponymous CD, MOJO Album of the Month in May 2006, went on to be my Album of the Year, and, as I write, the combo are in the running for half-a-dozen Blues Music Awards. That the phrase 'a hard act to follow' means nothing to William 'Watermelon Slim' Homans is perfectly clear from this storming successor, which is every bit as tough, clever and compelling. Slim expertly shuffles his cards, now dealing a full-on ensemble piece, such as the title song or Drinking & Driving ('You'd better pull over, baby, stop drinking and driving me away'), and now a gentler, older number like Cat Iron's Jimmy Bell or Furry Lewis's Judge Harsh Blues, beautifully sung with solo slide guitar. This truck driver-turned-bluesman is in for the long haul - grab a ride." 4 stars

-Tony Russell
MOJO Magazine
June, 2007 

 
   

"Watermelon Slim is single-handedly reviving interest in Blues, and itís just a matter of time before this conclusion is acknowledged in all quarters. This truth is forcefully demonstrated on The Wheel Man which is a case study in raggedly unadorned Blues where all the requisite emotional hotspots are pushed with a huge dose of "devil-may-care" abandon. No subtlety here. This is 100 proof Blues!

"A few kegs of prime bourbon must have contributed to those gravelly and rheumy vocals that never fail to amaze and amuse. They carry an authoritative weight not heard since Howliní Wolf. Merely looking at his weather-beaten bent face on the CD cover conveys an abiding sense of Watermelon Slimís salt-of-the-earth personality and his flat-out honesty. Itís all given expression with that his brash and forceful delivery that brims with sly observations culled from a lifetime of being down in the trenches.

"The intensity level is non-stop and Slimís head-spinning slide guitar work canít be overlooked in this regard. The title track
The Wheel Man features special guest Magic Slim, and itís uncanny how similarly both Slims sound. Besides the title track, several other songs recount his madcap trucking and hauling adventures, like Drinking and Driving, and Truck Driving Mama, although Newspaper Reporter suggests that resume of his also included some time as an ink-stained wretch.

"The most mesmerizing track is
Sawmill Holler, performed a cappella. Slim testifies about goings-on in some ghastly sawmill in an Academy-award winning performance. Peaches is supposedly a love song, although Slim seems more focused on the galís slinky movements across the dancefloor. And it features the always-great guitar work of Ike Lamb from Slimís stellar backup band the Workers. Another engagingly wacky autobiographical song is Fast Eddie.

"This CD is a solid sender, guaranteed to put several laughs in your belly, a smile on your face, and a glow in your heart. Itís highly recommended for listening: at home, the office, but especially when taking a late night cruise with lots of blacktop to cover. Itíll definitely make the mileage seem an awful lot shorter.

"For the definitive word on Slim, check what legendary Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler has to say:
Watermelon Slim incarnates the deepest and truest roots of American music. Combine Jimmy Rodgers, the whole Carter family and Bob Wills and Blind Lemon, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Wilson Pickett---and there you have Slim---a one-of-a-kind pickiní Ďní singiní Okie dynamo."

-Gary Tate
JazzReview.com
April, 2007 

 
   

"The blues has always been an enigma. A music that expresses deeply personal emotions, it does so with a well-worn collection of repeated phrases, rhymes and floating verses that are nothing short of community property. It is also a music of constriction, with a conservative set of stock progressions and riffs that make innovations to the genre extremely difficult. The resulting familiarity of all of this is what makes the blues what it is, personal yet general, individual yet communally held, a music that if it were any more blue collar it would be the deep blue sea itself. How on earth does one bring something fresh to this genre in the 21st Century without tipping the whole cart over on its side? Bill Homans, or Watermelon Slim, as he is known these days, seems to have found an answer by looking backwards all the way to the field holler and looking over sideways to country music, rolling it all up into a smart synthesis that sounds fresh and sharp even though it is only a half step removed from the sounds of Charley Patton or Jimmy Rodgers. The Wheel Man, Slim's second album for the Northern Blues imprint following 2006's magnificent Watermelon Smith & the Workers, isn't as striking as the previous offering, mainly because it is cut from the same exact cloth, but it also isn't a fall off, either, and the two releases taken together make a seamless arc. A former truck driver who just happens to own several university degrees and is a member of MENSA, Slim is his own walking enigma, and he manages to tread the line amazingly between what is blue collar and what is blues academia again on this album, beginning with the lead and title track, a duet with Magic Slim (do two Slims make for one Extra Large?) on the dilemma of making a sane life out of long haul trucking, which itsef becomes a blues metaphor for steering through life. "Sawmill Holler" is just that, a work holler that is both a cathartic release and a way to focus in on the tasks at hand. The harmonica and foot-stomp driven "Jimmy Bell" is old-fashioned storytelling done without any fancy modern recording tricks. There are a pair of impressive blues covers here, too, an Okie rendition of Slim Harpo's "Got Love If You Want It" and a solo acoustic take on Furry Lewis' "Judge Harsh Blues." But it is Slim's Oklahoma twang that binds everything together, and it reminds that there was a time when the blues and country music drank side by side from the same river. Two of the best songs here, the wise, humorous and carefully subtle "Drinking & Driving" and the raggedly stomping "Rattlesnake," could be all over country radio if the people who programmed that stuff really had a clue to what real country music is. Jimmy Rodgers (who never gets played on country radio-even though without Rodgers the format might not even exist) was the singing brakeman who loved the blues, and Watermelon Slim, the singing truck driver who also loves the blues, seem cut from the same cultural remnants. Slim's smart enough to know it, too. Which is fine. He drives that truck well."

-Steve Leggett
Allmusic Guide
April, 2007 

 
   

"The results of this yearís annual blues awards, the Handys, wonít be in until May, but expect this ex-Bostonian (né Bill Homans) to walk away with an armful. Watermelon Slim & the Workers was one of last yearís best albums in any genre - a raw, rocking, funny set guided by Slimís Delta-possessed guitar and aged-basset-hound voice. The follow-up is equally rollicking, full of songs about sex, crime, and greed, many set at a steamroller pace and some brought right back to the Mississippi dust that appears to be Slimís ground zero via his transfixing solo performances. Wheel Man is an impís workshop for his time-torn voice and rawboned playing. Although Slimís Workers are a crack outfit, they get a boost from Chicago heavyweight Magic Slim, who turns in a terse solo and sings with Homans on the title cut. Boston-based blues piano veteran David Maxwell provides three other tunes with extra crackle. Although Homans gives his lusty sense of humor and crusty slide guitar full rein, the two most mesmerizing performances are the a cappella sinnerís story Jimmy Bell and Judge Harsh Blues, a jail tale thatís just Watermelon Slim and his guitar."

-Ted Drozdowski
The Phoenix
April 10, 2007 

 
   

"As Bill Homans, Vietnam veteran and certified genius, this Oklahoma Everyman has toiled as a trucker hauling hazardous wastes and in academia. As Watermelon Slim, a blues singer, slide guitarist and harmonica player, he has released four CDs since his return to music several years ago, none better than his new one, "The Wheel Man."

His workingman's anthems -- including the title track, "
Truck Driving Mama" and "Newspaper Reporter," in which he gripes about not being allowed to drink beer on the job -- are played mostly with full electric bands backing him up. But some of his most effective material is sung a cappella or with spartan accompaniment ("Jimmy Bell," "Sawmill Holler").

It's old-school, deep blues, with a Delta-to-Chicago flavor, aided no doubt by the guest contributions of Windy City bandleader Magic Slim and pianist David Maxwell. Slim is a genuine blues character, something that's in short supply these days. "

-Jeff Johnson
Chicago Sun Times
March 2007 

 
   

"Bill Homans, better known as Watermelon Slim, has just released his Northern Blues debut, The Wheel Man. Bill has been a truck driver, watermelon farmer, and sawmiller, among other things, but his prowess as a bluesman has garnered him he most accolades. A bit of a character in he mold of Tom Waits, Slim is also a member of the Mensa Society, reserved for those with genius IQ's.

"On
The Wheel Man, Slim gives us a duke's mixture of uptempo shuffles, straight-from-the-delta acoustic numbers, and even a field holler! On the title cut, Slim is joined by Magic Slim, and this tune plays out as Slim's autobiogaphy, as he enjoyed his days as a trucker he best, unil he became an award-winning bluesman! David Maxwell adds piano to complement Slim's harp on a kiss-off song to an old flame, entitled I've Got News. The slow-burning Newspaper Reporter, furthering Slim's jack-of-all-trades persona, shows he's "still got what it takes!"

"He even gives a warning to his lover to stop "drinking and driving me away!"

"We had two favorites, tho. We suspect Slim has had his share of
Truck Driving Mamas, while Judge Harsh Blues is just Slim's vocal backed by his searing slide. It's a haunting tale that takes on everything from the IRS to the current administration.

Watermelon Slim is a one-of-a-kind bluesman who can't be pigeonholed.

Check out
The Wheel Man for a taste of the real deal!!"

-Sheryl and Don Crow
Music City Blues Society
March 2007 

 
   

"Mondo Project readers will already be familiar with the name Watermelon Slim, and you're welcome.

"Let me pick up were that review left off. I have in my possession an advance of Slim's upcoming album,
The Wheel Man. Two songs in and I was already considering that this album might have outdone his last.

"What's the big deal about that? That self-titled record is nominated for 6 BMA's this year- the most of any artist.

"I have now listened to 12 of the album's 14 tracks and
The Wheel Man just might be better.

"Boys and girls, do yourselves a favor, preorder this record. There is a new star in the blues game and his name is Watermelon Slim.

"If you miss it, nobody will ever love you."

-DJRadiohead
MondoProject.com
March 2007 

 
   

"Watermelon Slim & The Workers new CD The Wheel Man, on the Canadian NorthernBlues label, is a fresh take on an earthy and soulful roots sound. Bill Homans, a.k.a. Watermelon Slim, is a Vietnam veteran. He is also the only Vietnam vet to have recorded a full length album during the war. The new CD features guests Magic Slim and Dave Maxwell. These tracks just sizzle, and Slim's seasoned vocals are the real deal. Favorite tracks off this new disk include the title cut Wheel Man, Newspaper Reporter, and Sawmill Holler. There's no weak links in this chain of true blue tunes. After a stint as an industrial waste hauler, Slim returned to the music he loves, and hit the highway with his band in tow. His debut on NorthernBlues, Watermelon Slim & The Workers, received six Blues Music Award nominations, Mojo Magazine's 'Best Blues Album of the Year', among other awards. Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler says "Watermelon Slim incarnates the deepest and truest roots of American music," and delares Slim "a one-of-a-kind pickin' 'n' singin' Okie dynamo." We second those emotions. We're also thrilled to tell you that none other than Watermelon Slim himself will be featured on Sat., June 30 at 8:30 pm, on the tent stage, at this year's IH Mississippi Valley Blues Festival!"

-Ellis Kell
NewsChannel 8, WQAD, Moline, IL
March 2007 

 
   

"With a debut that came out of nowhere and picked up 6 blues award noms under his belt, Slim and his crew, the Workers are back, with a hand from Chicago cats like Magic Slim and Dave Maxwell, and the great blues anomaly continues to roll on with a set that proves the first was no fluke. Simply put, this is a set you can't pigeon hole. Sure, it's blue, but not that kind of blues that you have to be a blues fan to love. This bunch are entertainers first and they have a sound honed by roadhouses that probably don't exist anymore, but they keep the spirit alive. Rousing contemporary blues that will knock out you, as well as everyone you play it for, because it just doesn't quit. Some of the best new music around, hands down."

-Midwest Record Recap
March 2007