Review: Retro Deluxe – Watermelon Tea

Posted on: Saturday, Apr 9, 2011

“Watermelon Tea”
(Rinkled Rooster – RRCD-00002)

Here’s some good rockin’ plugged-in Delta blues on a generous 16-track collection produced by Clarksdale’s Jimbo Mathus, who has been involved in many Fat Possum releases,  and recorded at his old-style Delta Recording Studio in Como, Mississippi. The band are led by the tough vocals of Bobby Joe Owens, with all the songs penned by his alter-ego, Robert J. Thompson.

Also on board are the excellent guitarist Zach Sweeney, Justin Showah (bass), Billy Earheart (keyboards) and Jennifer Pierce Mathus (backing vocals), with the afore-mentioned Jimbo Mathus chipping in on drums, rhythm guitar, harmonica and backing vocals. The outfit manage to get the feel of a rocking juke joint on this, their second release.

Proceedings get underway with the title cut, “Watermelon Tea”, fired by Sweeney’s always impressive guitar as the band get into a nice boogie groove topped by Owens vocal; the following “A Woman Like That”, has a gentle rocking Jimmy Reed feel, on a tale of rejection by his lady over the phone, and plenty more guitar fireworks from Zach Sweeney. The pace is taken back up on “You’re Lyin'”, with a growling vocal from Bobby Joe Owens and Texas-style shuffle from the band and Sweeney’s guitar.

A highlight here is the slow blues of “The Mother Nature Song”, with lovely flurries of Freddie King-like guitar, and dark lyrics about what ‘mother nature’ has done to mess up Owens life. The predominantly acoustic down-home blues of “One Tooth Tessie” sees Jimbo Mathus on harmonica; with “Clarksdale, Mississippi” featuring a dirty, thick-toned Delta riff from Sweeney as the band take the pace down and Owens tells of paying his blues dues.

“Hoochie Coochie Back Door Man”, unsurprisingly doffs its cap to the blues legends and highly influential Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon, a mid-pace shuffle with plenty more sparkling guitar in evidence, and pushed by the unfussy rhythm section of Justin Showah and Mathus . . . and a vocal reminiscent of prime George Thorogood. Billy Earheart’s nice organ playing underpins “Wine And Religion”, addressing some of the demons faced by bluesmen in general, with Owens conventional vocal giving way to a preacher-like rant.

Elsewhere, the boogie of “Rockin’ The Blues Tonight” is self-explanatory, with Earheart’s rollicking piano, and the rousing Jerry Lee Lewis style tear-up on “What In The Devil Did I Do Last Night?”, where Owens attempts to recall the events of a memorable night-before. The direction changes again on the swinging “Beer And Whiskey, Wine And Cigarettes”, a fine shuffle that shows the versatility of all the players . . . excellent indeed!

The closing  5:46 of “Blues Infusion” could almost be the perfect companion to Hendrix’s “Purple Haze”, riding on a similar riff, and Sweeney cutting loose, with rocky solos and wah-wah pedal . . . completely different to the previous 15 tracks, but a fine ending to a great album.


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