For the uninitiated, William P Homans, also known under his blues nom de plume as Watermelon Slim, is a polymath.
He has lived the life of a Vietnam veteran, small time criminal, Southern gentleman during the Jim Crowe days, farmer, father, husband, heart attack survivor, academic scholar - and day laborer.
Homans has a wealth of knowledge, talent and experience to draw from, which makes him musically conversant in material written by Cat-Iron as he is in material by Laura Nyro. To say No Paid Holidays, the third offering by Watermelon Slim & The Workers on The Northern Blues label, is more of the same does all involved a major disservice. Although the disc does cover from standard blues themes (the effects of excessive living, loss of a loved one) Watermelon Slim & The Workers just do things differently.
And by differently, I mean better - much better.
Slim is once again layering his fiery slide Dobro and harmonica work and weathered vocals over his road tested three-piece backing band. With Michael Newbury on drums and percussion, Cliff Belcher on bass, and Ronnie McMullen Jr. on six-string, about the only thing remotely negative about the disc is, by including four solo tracks, the Workers are underutilized.
Again, I need to stress the solo tracks are not self-gratifying fillers. Having witnessed Slim quiet, and through a room full of contemporaries at a Handy Awards show, each of these solo tracks has the ability to repeat this feat. However, this should have been an 18-track disc instead of 14. Slim certainly has a vast catalog of experience to write and sing about.
From the opening track “Blues from Howard,” it is putting these four gifted musicians on the road for virtually the last two years that has got them synched into each others playing, and with Slimís arrangements. Every note has meaning; every lead line is included only to propel the groove of the song or instrumental.
“Archetypal Blues No.2” is another shuffle piece with a big enough groove to drive one of Slimís old 18-wheelers through. “Call My Job,” has Slimís weathered vocals, matter-of-fact delivery and dry wit propelling a song about having “too much weekend.” Slim may be able to mingle with the single-malt-and-brandy crowd, but is most at home with those who prefer whiskey as their beverage of choice.
On the track “Dad in The Distance,” the tempo slows down as Slim examines his relationships with his father, and with his own child. It is a particularly gripping piece considering when not on the road, Slim calls Oklahoma home - and his child lives in Massachusetts.
Other highlights on this disk include a cover version of “When I Die,” written by Laura Nyro and made famous by Blood, Sweat & Tears. A solo track of just Slimís vocals and harmonica complement this unique choice of cover tunes. “Gearsyís Boogie” is an up-tempo instrumental written for an honest mechanic who helped Slim & The Workers on yet another cross- country trek.
On “Max the Baseball Clown,” Slim waxes nostalgic about a character he met during his childhood in North Carolina. On “The Bloody Burmese Blues,” Slim takes to task the U.S. media only supporting selected causes, and then reminds the listener that ordinary everyday people can make a change as long as they are interested in taking action.
Having won two Blues Music Awards for their previous release The Wheel Man, this album should certainly garner more recognition for Northern Blues and Watermelon Slim & The Workers. While out purchasing copies of No Paid Holidays, pick up an offering from Homansí back catalog. Never one to go through the motions, the man, and his band, has many layers, and you will not be disappointed.