Watermelon Slim is single-handedly reviving interest in Blues, and it’s 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 Howlin’ Wolf. Merely looking at his weather-beaten bent face on the CD cover conveys an abiding sense of Watermelon Slim’s salt-of-the-earth personality and his flat-out honesty. It’s 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 Slim’s head-spinning slide guitar work can’t be overlooked in this regard. The title track "The Wheel Man" features special guest Magic Slim, and it’s 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 gal’s slinky movements across the dancefloor. And it features the always-great guitar work of Ike Lamb from Slim’s 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. It’s highly recommended for listening: at home, the office, but especially when taking a late night cruise with lots of blacktop to cover. It’ll 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 pickin’ ‘n’ singin’ Okie dynamo."