Watermelon Slim & The Workers - The Wheel Man

Watermelon Slim & The Workers
The Wheel Man

(Northern Blues)

First Appeared in The Music Box, April 2007, Volume 14, #4

Written by John Metzger


A heart attack prompted Watermelon Slim to return to recording in 2002, after a nearly 30-year absence from the music industry. Since then, he has issued albums like clockwork, and he has garnered a plethora of critical praise while also becoming a mainstay of the W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards. The Wheel Man, his latest effort, comes hot on the heels of the most recent round of Blues Music Award nominations, which he received for last yearís self-titled set. Throughout the new endeavor, he seems intent on exploring the blues from every possible angle.

The title track, which opens The Wheel Man, boasts a guest appearance by Magic Slim, and sparks fly as his crystalline electric leads rub against Watermelon Slimís churning dobro slide. On the subsequent Iíve Got News, pianist David Maxwell visits to lay down a boogie-woogie counterpunch to Slimís writhing harp accompaniment in a way that draws inevitable comparisons to John Mayall and Marcia Ball. Elsewhere, he adopts a steamy, swampy groove for Peaches; he embraces a rock-inflected, R&B-laden shimmer on Rattlesnake; and he takes a rustic, old-fashioned approach to Jimmy Bell, Judge Harsh Blues, and Sawmill Holler.

Eclectic as it is, however, The Wheel Man suffers some rather fatal flaws. For starters, the albumís highlights are individualistic ones ó a harp line here, a guitar lick there ó and the band doesnít appear to be fully in synch on any of the collectionís tracks. When the rhythm section simmers, the vocals lack passion; when soloists add a bite to the material, the underlying grooves desperately are in need of a galvanizing jolt. The result is that much of The Wheel Man sounds unfocused and scattered, and its parts never quite coalesce into anything more than the kind of perfunctorily academic romp through the blues that typically is offered by bar bands. starstar Ĺ

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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


Copyright © 2007 The Music Box