Back in the 1920s and early '30s, Fats Waller sold a lot of songs for next to nothing. Much to his consternation, some of these melodies turned up later as hugely successful hits with other peoples' names attached. He adamantly insisted that he'd written both "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," gorgeous tunes that do seem to be cut from the same fabric as "Honeysuckle Rose," "My Fate Is in Your Hands," and "Keepin' Out of Mischief Now." Bearing this in mind, Waller's magnificently cynical duet with Una Mae Carlisle is not only one of the most skillfully humorous records he ever made, but might also have served as a sort of artistic vengeance upon Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields. In any case, Una Mae has a wonderfully sultry voice and Fats is remarkably funny. "The Darktown Strutters' Ball" features a non-electric taxi cab horn and a very hot band, goaded by Waller's shouting and piano plunking. "Swinga-Dilla Street" demonstrates his mature bouncing Hammond organ style. "At Twilight" was composed by Thomas and Anita Waller. It is romantic, soft, and lovely, like something from Duke Ellington. "Black Maria," that cheerful ode to a paddy wagon, swings hard. Rosy and idyllic, "Mighty Fine" is most memorable for its interesting punch line: "Exuberance is the spontaneity of life." Waller's band had already recorded two excellent versions of "The Moon Is Low" in 1939. The first 1940 take is a nice hasty jam, but nothing could top what they'd done with it a few months earlier. Unissued until the 1970s, "The Moon Is Low, Pt. 2" uses the Hammond organ in place of piano. Fats slips into in a strange key at one point, which is probably why this take was rejected. "Fat and Greasy" is a remake of a nasty tune recorded in 1935 by Waller's big band. This version actually includes the verse, for what it's worth. It's kind of strange to hear Fats making fun of obesity. "You Run Your Mouth" is famous for its prickly assertiveness. This is much better than the sloppy, apparently inebriated second take. Fats makes all kinds of weird noises with his lips during "Eep, Ipe, Wanna Piece of Pie," a very funny song for children or twisted adults. "My Mommie Sent Me to the Store" is even better, with a hilarious vocal exchange between the bandmembers and their fearless leader. Does the word "rye" refer to bread or liquids? Only mother knows for sure. "Dry Bones," cast in a minor mode, is wonderfully spooky and expertly timed. It's much better than anyone else's version of this old song. Deep in the throes of his own theater of the absurd, Fats invokes "fine neck bones and rice" with almost religious fervor.
AllMusic Review by arwulf arwulf
feat: Una Mae Carlisle