Watermelon Slim, Church of the Blues (Independent)

His given name is William P. Homans III. He calls himself Watermelon Slim. Born into a Boston blueblood family, Homans left the privileged life he seemed destined to enjoy. He worked a series of unglamorous jobs, including forklift operator, funeral officiator, truck driver and newspaper reporter. Now 69, he’s a blues and roots singer, slide guitarist and songwriter—and a watermelon farmer in Oklahoma.

Nearly 30 years after Homans released his 1973 album debut, Merry Airbrakes, he resumed his recording career with Big Shoes to Fill. Since then, he’s received 20 Blues Awards nominations and 2 Blues Awards wins.

Homans’ guest star–aided latest album, Church of the Blues, covers much musical and topical ground. “Charlottesville (Blues for My Nation)” addresses the Nazi rallies that rocked Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017. Homans strikes a humanist stance in this blues anthem. It’s not so much a blues protest song as a call to brotherhood and reminder of past evils. “Try, try to remember, America, the deepest, darkest things they represent,” he sings. “Love and forgive, live and let live, no matter who may be our president.”

Blues artists rarely get overtly topical, but Homans does so again with the highly relevant “Mni Wiconi The Water Song.” Featuring a three-piece horn section and guest guitarist Joe Louis Walker, the song mentions the oil-stained Gulf of Mexico. “If we don’t care about our water, we don’t care who we kill,” Homans admonishes.

Most of Church of the Blues sticks to tried-and-true blues themes. Homans bemoans financial stress in “Tax Man Blues.” He sings humorously about technological challenges in the funk-accented “Post-Modern Blues.” The mournful “Gypsy Woman” prominently features his harmonica playing.

Homans complements the album’s seven original compositions with four classics by Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell and New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint (“Get Out My Life Woman”). Despite his many years in music, Church of the Blues, his thirteenth album, is a convincing introduction to this distinctive artist.