Watermelon Slim: The breakout star of the blues. 

Does anyone in modern pop music have a more intriguing biography than Bill "Watermelon Slim" Homans? Homans, the privileged son of a liberal attorney and Freedom Rider, went to a liberal arts college (Middlebury) and eventually earned degrees from the University of Oregon (undergrad) and University of Oklahoma (grad). On the other hand, Homans ditched school and fought in Vietnam and has spent much of the past 30 years working blue-collar jobs such as truck driver, sawmill worker, and watermelon farmer (thus his performing moniker), only recently becoming a full-time musician.

The musician thing has worked out. Watermelon Slim became a blues-circuit regular only a few years ago, but this week he's leading the nominations at the Blues Music Awards, which will be held Thursday, May 10th, at the Cook Convention Center. Slim's six nominations put him on a level previously reserved for artists such as B.B. King and Robert Cray and come only two years after being a "Best New Artist Debut" nominee.

If The Wheel Man, the new album from Slim and his pointedly named backing band The Workers, is any indication, look for something like a repeat performance at next year's BMAs, because in an increasingly niche-oriented genre, this robust, rousing record demands a bigger audience. Like Jimmie Rodgers, another working-class hero, Slim is a blues-loving white guy who blends country into his sound. The generally stomping electric blues on The Wheel Man is almost totally devoid of blues-bar-band clichés, with echoes of field hollers and jump blues thrown into the mix. And Slim proves to be a sharp songwriter: "Drinking & Driving" ("You better pull over baby instead of drinking and driving me away") is one of those songs you can't believe hasn't already been written.

Content-wise, the album mirrors the diversity of experience of the man himself. "Newspaper Reporter," about one of Slim's past career paths, acknowledges his white-collar credentials, while the title track and "Sawmill Holler" speak to the blue-collar experience that has seemingly shaped him more. — Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Watermelon Slim plays the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Saturday, May 12th.

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