Watermelon Slim is a slide guitar player who has reached the apex of the blues world. He's one of a mere handful of artists whose every release is greeted with unbridled anticipation. That’s truly inspirational, considering he only decided to dedicate himself full-time to life as a touring musician in the last five years.
The glories inherent is No Paid Holidays," his third release on the Northernblues label, are a function of paying those dues for over 30 years, while holding a series of tough jobs, mainly in the hauling industry. Those experiences, trials, tribulations and setbacks form the ideas building blocks behind Slim’s total authenticity. And the guy possesses talent in spades, an unbeatable combination of intensely passionate and often supple vocals, lyrical uniqueness and instrumental heft. The bottom line is you simply will not find a bluesman with such honesty, passion and believability on God’s green earth.
The man is a living incarnation of the true greats of American roots music, combining influences like immortals as Sonny Boy Williamson, Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, the Carter Family and Bob Wills, to mention a few, into a cohesive whole. Life has been a strange journey for Watermelon Slim in so many ways, especially when a near-fatal heart attack struck. It was taken a sign from above that that his mortality and artistic muse were united by destiny.
The leadoff track "Blues For Howard" is "full-throttle boogie meets down-home blues" and Slim’s intense dobro is backed by sparkling piano work by special guest David Maxwell is manna for the soul. "Archetypal Blues No 2" is a slice of combustible blues featuring Slim reciting his musical forebears like a holy man summoning the names of the disciples. Those who have yet to witness the man’s live performance are in for a real treat when he arrives in their town.
The most touching selection is "Dad In The Distance" and while it’s full of regrets, Slim’s tender side manages to come the fore. This is what blues is all about, an artist providing deep glimpses into his soul and literally baring it all. "You’re The One I Need" is another moving blues ballad in rumba tempo and these heartfelt lines are especially poignant: "this world is full of women, but you’re the one that I need".
On "When I Die," (yes, the old Blood, Sweat, and Tears chestnut) he zeroes into its underlying message like a brain surgeon with a scalpel. "Traveling Life" is simply bone-chilling from start to finish, part chant, part field holler, part spiritual and a totally consuming insight into his situation. Glory hallelulah! "Everyone’s Down On Me" is a stunning tour-de-force of acoustic blues. Mercy! "Bubba’s Blues" is slide guitar heaven as Lee Roy Parnell adds his hot drone to the mix. Southern hospitality!
Humor is never far from the surface, especially on his moving tribute to the late Max Patkin, the late beloved court jester of the baseball diamond on "Max, The Baseball Clown." Max and Slim are kindred free spirits, each put on earth to entertain while simultaneously mocking pomposity and the hypocrisy. "I’ve Got A Tootache" is another hoot, a case study in how to elicit maximum impact using ill-fortune for semi-comedic purposes.
I wish I had space to dwell at length on the majesty of all 14 tracks, but, simply put, they’re all superb. Every 15 to 20 years or so, someone manages to comes along who single-handedly revives a blues scene that’s on life support. Watermelon Slim is that miracle maker for this new millennium and No Paid Holidays gets my highest possible recommendation