Merline Johnson

Yas Yas Girl, Vol. 3: Complete Works (August 1939 - Oct 1940)

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Most of Chicago blues woman Merline Johnson's recordings were reissued by the Vienna-based Document label during the 1990s. Volume three opens with three remaining titles from her session of August 31, 1939, which resulted in nine selections issued under the heading of "The Yas Yas Girl and Her Jazz Boys." In addition to some fine blowing by old-time New Orleans trumpeter Lee Collins and all-purpose Windy City alto saxophonist Buster Bennett, as well as solid rhythm accompaniments by guitarist Big Bill Broonzy and pianist Blind John Davis, these recordings are intriguing for the presence of Alfred Elkins, a bassist who used only his voice, although it is possible he was huffing away on a big bottle or something as if he were holding down the business end of an old-fashioned jug band. Other participants on volume three are pianist Joshua Altheimer and no-nonsense drummer Fred Williams. Merline Johnson sings a lot of straightforward blues on this collection, occasionally tearing up with lively numbers like "You're a Pain in the Neck to Me," "I'd Rather Be Drunk," "I Just Keep on Drinking," "Want to Woogie Some More," "I Won't Sell My Love," "You Know It Ain't Right," and "Man to Man." The rest of the songs move more gradually and are, in some cases, melodically similar enough to sound like continuous installments in a sort of extended blues oratorio. Certainly tracks 4 through 23, with accompaniment pared down to piano and drums, have the singer sounding less like a jazz artist than ever before; "Stop and Listen" is a peculiarly moving performance similar to Victoria Spivey's bittersweet approach to the blues. This portion of the Yas Yas Girl's chronology ends with eight recordings made on October 7, 1940. Six more Okeh sides from 1941 and a previously unreleased "Bad Whiskey Blues" recorded in 1947 were included in a compilation entitled Female Chicago Blues (Document 5295) along with recordings by Trixie Butler, Clara Morris, and Billie McKenzie. All of the Yas Yas Girl's recordings are well worth obtaining, with Document's volume two offering maximum enjoyment.

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