Watermelon Slim

Up Close & Personal

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Watermelon Slim (his real name is Bill Homans) strips things down to basics on Up Close & Personal, a move that brings out the raw, impassioned intensity of his songs, and brings him as close as he's ever gotten to a fresh contemporary vision of country blues. The instrumentation here is sparse, usually just Slim alone with his National Steel guitar (a couple tracks feature his fevered harmonica style, and on the moving "Bridgebuilder" he plays a kalimba thumb piano), and at times he sounds like a looser, more unhinged John Hammond, albeit with a more personal vision and an unyielding blue-collar view of the world. There is more here than immediately meets the eye, however, and if Watermelon Slim plays up the truck driver turned blues player bit, he's also a member of MENSA and has a master's degree in history from Oklahoma State University, which may well make him the most literate figure in all of blues history. He certainly knows the country blues forms (two of the most striking tracks here are unaccompanied field hollers that sound like they could have been recorded by Alan Lomax), and he also knows how to modernize them without distorting them. The end result is a furious, visceral album of mostly acoustic blues with several striking tracks, including "Blue Freightliner," "The Last Blues," "Scalemaster Blues," "Cynical Old Bastard," and the affecting, delicate "Bridgebuilder." Watermelon Slim is obviously part caricature, but the intensity with which he growls and shouts these songs is more than a creative construct. It has to come from the heart.

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