Merline Johnson

Yas Yas Girl, Vol. 2: Complete Works (May 1938 - Aug 1939)

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If the first volume of Merline Johnson's complete recordings was highly rewarding, volume two is utterly essential, as it contains some of her all-time best, most exciting, and jazz-infused performances. Susceptible listeners may find it difficult to remain seated during "Running Down My Man" (which sounds a lot like one of Washboard Sam's upbeat creations), as a fine trumpeter (possibly Punch Miller) and a tenor saxophonist (probably Bill Owsley) swing like mad atop a well-oiled rhythm section that includes pianist Blind John Davis and electrically amplified guitarist George Barnes. This level of enjoyment is maintained during a kicking cover of Louis Armstrong's "Ol' Man Mose" and a brusque version of "Don't You Leave Me Here," previously recorded by Monette Moore with Charlie Johnson's Original Paradise Ten in 1927 and by wandering Texas guitarist Henry Thomas in 1929. Identified as the Louisiana Kid on Vocalion C-2296 ("Separation Blues"), Punch puts his horn down and sings a duet with the Yas Yas Girl. Sometimes billed as the Rhythm Rascals, Merline's bands as heard on this collection were mightily stoked by players like guitarists Big Bill Broonzy and Willie B. James; steel guitarist Casey Bill Weldon, saxophonist Buster Bennett, and trumpeters Alfred Bell, Walter Williams, and venerable Lee Collins, a New Orleans legend who made records with Jelly Roll Morton in 1924. Collins is heard here on tracks 17-22 as a member of the Yas Yas Girl's Jazz Boys, an ensemble anchored by bass vocalist Alfred Elkins, who sounds like he might have been blowing across a whiskey jug, old style. While Merline Johnson was quite capable of whipping up her own ideas, the occasional cover tunes pack a wallop, as does Billie Holiday's "Fine and Mellow" and New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker's "Don't You Make Me High," which he wrote for his wife Blue Lu Barker, who made her soon-to-be-famous recording for Decca only weeks before Merline Johnson took it on accompanied by Buster Bennett's persuasive soprano sax. Decades later, diminutive Maria Muldaur enjoyed a spate of success with her sultry update of this naughty little masterpiece.

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