By Ken Clarke
Calgary Folk Festival fans are in for a bluesy treat this summer. American Watermelon Slim and his band The Workers are scheduled to appear, and judging from their latest release, these guys will set the joint a-jumpin’.
Although Slim’s been playing the blues for over 30 years, The Wheel Man is only his fourth release to date. Slim spent his post-Vietnam years as a truck driver, watermelon farmer, journalist and member of the MENSA Society. Not until 2003 was Slim able to focus full-time on the blues, and The Wheel Man is a lyrical testament to his diverse past.
The title track jump-starts the disc thanks to Slim’s hot dobro-slide guitar chops and gritty vocals. Chicago guitar slinger Magic Slim adds some nasty guest solos and some brief Howlin’ Wolf-style vocals.
The session shifts into the more up-tempo shuffle, “I’ve Got News,” which showcases Slim’s expert harp blowing and guest piano player David Maxwell’s nimble fingers. Other highlights are the a cappella, “Jimmy Bell,” and the vocal/slide-only, “Judge Harsh Blues,” which prove that Slim is capable of handling affairs alone.
While Slim’s style is rooted in the Mississippi Delta school, his Chicago buddies and seasoned band contribute to an interesting blues mix that defies categorization. The Wheel Man is the perfect primer to what should be one hell of a set at Folk Fest.