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Album Review

Often compared with Nellie Lutcher, Julia Lee, Rose Murphy, and Martha Davis, rowdy vocalist Paula Watson was a vigorous pianist who could lay down a mean boogie-woogie blues, as demonstrated on her very best recorded performance, "Paula's Nightmare." Watson cut eight sides for the Supreme record label in 1948, including a simple novelty singalong number with the unassuming title "A Little Bird Told Me." Composed by pianist Harvey Brooks, a veteran of the West Coast jazz scene in the 1920s, this song had only just begun to catch on when the Decca record company released their own version sung by Evelyn Knight. After this became a lucrative hit, Supreme sued Decca for $400,000 in damages, but the judge ruled in favor of the larger company. Supreme was soon entirely out of business, and by December of 1949 Paula Watson was working for Decca. This Classics chronological compendium contains all or most of her recorded works. Watson's eight Supreme sides illustrate her range of mostly novelty material, distinctly corny and at times somewhat overbearing. Backed by guitarist Tiny Webb and an otherwise unidentified band, Watson seems to have enjoyed cutting up every step of the way and even used human-generated sound effects like the crowing rooster heard during "Hidin' in the Sticks." On her first two Decca sides she was backed by saxophonist Jerry Jerome and his orchestra, and it is here that she sounds almost exactly like Julia Lee. The formula never changed much — lots of hand clapping and cute/hip lyrics. Four Deccas recorded in L.A. on March 30, 1950, are laden with group vocals by Four Hits & a Miss and backed by a studio band trying like hell to emulate Tommy Dorsey's Clambake Seven. If you follow the trajectory of Watson's heavy-handed vocal delivery to its logical conclusion, the next stop would be someone like Cass Daley. "A Heart of Stone" is vintage 1950 corn, suitable perhaps for Eddy Arnold or Tennessee Ernie Ford. "Don't Worry Me No More," on the other hand, is comparatively cool, sounding almost like a Buddy Johnson record. The backing vocals enhance her lead without distracting from the mood. But the rest of the material from this session will only appeal to those who enjoy the sort of spongy white-bread group vocals epitomized by Four Hits & a Miss. Paula Watson's four sides cut for the MGM label in March of 1953 are significantly hipper, thanks largely to the participation of saxophonists T. Alexander Hulbert, Dave McRae, and Sam "The Man" Taylor. Note also the presence of master upright bassist Milt Hinton and ex-Earl Hines percussionist Rudy Traylor. Watson has a lot of fun with "I Love to Ride," rocking it up and lightly pushing the conventional limits of acceptability for 1953. The saxophones make some of these tunes feel like miniature blowing sessions.

1948-1953, Paula Watson
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