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Watermelon Slim Watermelon Slim
Album: Golden Boy
Label: DixieFrog
Tracks: 10

Watermelon Slim is the alias of William P. Homans, undoubtedly one of the most original and unusual artists in the blues & roots sector. He's been dubbed "truly a moving and important voice that conveys the soul of the real America". One could say that maybe the cover photo says it all - this guy's been around the block more than a few times, paying his dues on a variety of jobs, and he's a defiant survivor. And a proud card-carrying Life Member of Vietnam Veterans Against The War. While he's deservedly won loads of awards for his music over the past decade or so, both solo and with his band The Workers. His latest album is likely to be considered his finest - certainly it's the best I've heard from him (but then, I've not even managed to hear all of the dozen or so other albums he's made). Unlike some of Slim's previous offerings, though, Golden Boy is less "modern blues" than a tasty stew of rootsy musics, with each track boasting a wholly different sound and scoring (no mean achievement!).

Once Oklahoma-based, Slim now resides in Clarksdale on the Mississippi delta, and continues to write impassioned songs of social conscience voicing the need for tolerance and freedom, all couched roughly in the blues idiom but drawing hope from their realism; Slim's excellent cover of Blind Willie Johnson's You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond slots right on in with his original songs in this regard as well as musically. But Golden Boy is (unexpectedly) also in part a declaration of love to Canada, a country so little known by his fellow-countrymen. The album's Winnipeg-based producer Scott Nolan penned Cabbage Town (about a Toronto neighbourhood where Irish immigrants used to plant cabbage in their front lawns). But even more of a highlight is Slim's a cappella cover of the late, great Stan Rogers' cracking maritime tall-story Barrett's Privateers (which features Stan's son Nathan among its chorus singers).

Slim may be renowned as a brilliant slide guitarist and harmonica player, but it's his voice that you first notice - an attention-grabbing, gruff, grizzled, lived-in twang that coaxes a healthy register and some impossible bass notes. It's kinda like crossing Ry Cooder with Tom Waits at times, with the latter's gravelly drawl and laconic observation especially recalled on the lazy barroom closin' time waltzer Winners Of Us All. A whiff of slightly spooky early Beefheart pervades the slide-driven Northern Blues, while WBCN ((telling of a Miami demonstration fighting neo-Nazi thugs) is done like a Celtic ballad set to a bowed bass drone and snare tattoo. Dark Genius is a broody celebration of JFK; the dirty swampy harmonica-soaked 12-bar Mean Streets evokes the plight of the homeless; and native American solidarity is voiced on the terrifying ululations of Wolf Cry.

There's a freshness of invention at work in the songwriting of this "rebel poet" and self-confessed "most literate bluesman in the world", one that obviates any potential feel of roots cliché in his vital, informed musical settings. It's sorely needed in these troubled times - for, as they say, "even Shakespeare gets the blues".

Exemplary packaging and artwork, great booklet with full lyrics and credits etc too. You owe it to yourself to get acquainted with Slim and his poetic and imaginative, nay incomparable take on roots and blues.

David Kidman