You could see this one coming. Watermelon Slim's last album, 2004's sparse and arresting Up Close & Personal, revealed a contemporary bluesman with a scholar's understanding of the genre and a truly skewed, passionate approach to performing it that hinted at even deeper possibilities. Watermelon Slim & the Workers is the payoff. The sound on this record (which was produced by Chris Wick, who also plays bass on one of the tracks) is simply huge, and yet Slim's songs and field holler vocals keep it all appropriately intimate, making this release one of the best contemporary blues albums in years. On the surface Slim (his real name is Bill Homans) seems always to be working on the edge of parody, but this ex-truck driver who is also a member of MENSA (and owns several university degrees) is after bigger things. His passion for the blues makes these songs pulse with a gospel-like joy and intensity, and his new band the Workers gives him the kind of raggedly perfect backdrop to make it all slam home. Beginning with the opener, the shuffling and stomping "Hard Times," things never let up through the loose-limbed "Dumpster Blues," the spooky "Devil's Cadillac" (which sounds a bit like a revamped take on Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You"), the revealing and convincing "Bad Sinner," and the rolling rhythms of "Juke Joint Woman." One of the highlights on an album that is filled with them is a version here of Fred McDowell's "Frisco Line," which Slim and company tackle like they're on a careening blues train, and while Slim isn't quite the fluid slide guitar player that McDowell was, he's still darn good. This remarkable set is capped off by the closing "Eau de Boue," which outlines Slim's passionate devotion and commitment to the blues, and since he is perhaps the smartest ex-truck driver to ever sing this stuff, Slim sings it in French, maybe just because he can. For Watermelon Slim the blues isn't so much a musical genre as it is a calling, and beyond that, a shot at redemption. This guy is the real deal, and this is a great album.