Church of the Blues
Chicago Blues is Alive and Well and In Safe Hands.
A couple of weeks ago I mentioned this album to a mate, who could go on Mastermind and choose The Blues as his Specialist Subject; and his non-plussed response was….. “Never heard of him.” The conversation ended there and then.
Possibly more than any other genre, Blues Fans live in the past and refuse to admit anything remotely interesting has been recorded since 1979 turned into 1980!
As I prove most months……how very, very wrong they are!
This is 69 year old Slim’s 13th album, with the first being released in 1973 (the follow up game 29 years later….hahahaha.) and I guess not a lot has changed in the intervening years, as he certainly has a golden handle on the Classic Chicago sound, of which a few glorious covers litter this album in-between his own red hot songs.
Church of the Blues is an apt title; especially as the first song is titled St Peter’s Ledger, a cover that I’d never heard of but sets the seal here quite perfectly; as Slim sounds like a bit of a rascal as he tries to wangle his way past the Pearly Gates; and boy oh boy can he make his electric slide guitar sizzle and squeal!
There’s a fascinating mix of covers here with three songs that blew me away when I first heard them as a teenager; albeit not by the originators. I first heard Smokestack Lightning on 5 Live Yardbirds; and Watermelon Slim’s take is more of a shuffle than that or any of Howlin’ Wolf’s recordings.
The dust is blown right off Muddy’s Gypsy Woman by Slim’s wailin’ harmonica and soul shaking voice; then on Highway 61 Blues; as Johnny Winter once said about something entirely different; “Now we’re gonna get low down and dirty,” which Slim does like any of the greats of old did, ‘back in the day’.
Alongside the Gene Barge song Me and My Woman and Allen Toussaint’s Get Out of My Life; the cover versions are really just appetisers for Watermelon Slim’s own songs; with Holler #4 and Mini Wiconi (The Water Song) and That Ole 1-4-5 showing what a great and divergent talent this guy is.
Slim’s other songs swing, shimmy and make the sweat run down your back (even in January) with the ultra-cool Post-Modern Blues, the sinister and self-depreciating Halloween Mama and the dancetastic yet politically astute Blues For My Nation proving that The Blues can still be both Classic AND Contemporary, without sounding dusty or Heavy, Heavy, Heavy.
Choosing a Favourite Track wasn’t as hard as you’d imagine; as it’s another song that helped shape my musical tastes when I first heard Rory Gallagher sing it acoustically on the OGWT, and subsequently when he put blisters on the verses when played with the band on Irish Tour ’74; but today Watermelon Slim gives it an exciting shimmy and a swagger that make it sound like it was recorded round about midnight in a Mississippi Roadhouse back in the late 1950’s. Damn! This is what the Blues sounds like for me.
I doubt I will ever see Watermelon Slim play these songs live; which is a shame, but the way he plays and sings shows that the Blues is Alive and Well and in safe hands.
Released January 25th 2019