The Cats & the Fiddle

We Cats Will Swing for You, Vol. 2: 1940-1941

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Volume two in the detailed history of the Cats & the Fiddle as presented by Fabulous in 2003 contains 16 Bluebird recordings dating from July 1940 through October 1941. This entertaining little string band, a logical extension of Leo Scat Watson & the Spirits of Rhythm, specialized in vocal harmony and worked with a repertoire that ranged from sentimental ballads to zoot suit swing and scat-propelled jive routines. Their approach also echoed what and Slim Gaillard and Slam Stewart achieved in 1938. Led by guitarist Austin Powell, the group heard on tracks one through five featured Ernie Price who plucked a small guitar known as a tipple (the Latin American term, "tiple," is pronounced "tee-play"); and guitarist Herbie Miles, who replaced the deceased Jimmy Henderson in 1940. The "fiddle" was Chuck Barksdale's upright bass. Beginning with track six, Miles is replaced by Tiny Grimes, a Charlie Christian disciple who played electrically amplified guitar and piano. The lively "Hep Cat's Holiday" introduces a hitherto unknown date to the Gregorian calendar: the 40th of November. "Pig's Idea," a marvelous, ruminative blues with wordless vocals, is credited to Powell and Price and features some of Barksdale's best moments on record. "I'm Gonna Pull My Hair (Let My Wig Come Down)" is a rowdy blues with strong premonitions of rock & roll. "I'm Singing (So Help Me)," one of several numbers written by Grimes, takes a humorously self-deprecating stand and even implies that scat singing might give the impression that the singer is intoxicated. Both the attractive "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" and an exhilarating treatment of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies" (which uses an arrangement by Grimes) approach perfection. At their best, the Cats & the Fiddle could and did produce recordings comparable to what the King Cole Trio was putting out during this period.

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