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KING 4382; JULY 1950



As the remaining stock of leftover tracks in the King Records vaults for Ivory Joe Hunter gets depleted it hardly comes as a surprise that the quality of that remaining output began to decline with nothing that would suggest any of these songs would make for a potential hit.

But in this case we’re left with one that would make a perfectly serviceable B-side… for a much more potent A-side that is.

Instead this was called into service as the flip of an even weaker top side and thus was left to languish in a sea of indifference rather than be mildly appreciated for giving us yet another small wrinkle in Hunter’s ever-changing approach.


Change My Way Of Doin’
As much as we’ve praised Hunter over the past few years for some fairly nuanced lyrical insight and remarkable technical proficiency as musician, often while leading wildly divergent lineups – from jazz luminaries to country sidemen to rag-tag collections of pick-up sessionists – we’ve also bemoaned his predilection for mining a rather distressing emotional failing, that of someone who is perpetually insecure when it came to romance.

Such a weak image tends to run counter to the dominant rock attributes of virility and self-assuredness and though there’s no denying that often the most heartfelt and profound songs in the rock lexicon embody this internal doubt, they tend to work best when positioned as the counterweight to more confident outlooks.

By always sticking to the same themes of anxiety and timidity, Hunter ensured that you stopped being really surprised by his songs, even when he began hitting new highs when it came to the execution of those ideas.

To that end the basic perspective found on Changing Blues is just what you expect out of him but for once he seems to be taking the first steps towards rectifying those shortcomings as reflected in the title.

Though the change he promises is bound to be a gradual one – and doubtless is something he may quickly find overwhelming enough to revert to form in later efforts – at least he seems to sense the need to evolve a little and take on a new image.

We might wish for him to be bolder in his declarations, more assertive in his statements and more aggressive in his musical direction, but the first steps are always the hardest and the mere fact he recognizes and admits his problem is cause for some hope that he might one day embrace an entirely new image.


Driving Me To Do The Things I Did
While his emotional outlook remained fairly stagnant, Ivory Joe Hunter was always much more adept at shifting his musical image from one record to the next and this is a perfect example of that stylistic flexibility.

What’s amazing about this arrangement is that its vaguely New Orleans jazz feel was extracted from the same musicians who gave Guess Who and Waiting In Vain such a classy pop veneer. They were cut at the same February 1949 session, but whereas those featured violins as the primary musical accompaniment with muted horns as the backdrop, here he strips off the strings and pours on the horns, particularly in the opening when is the mood created is like taking a stroll down Bourbon Street at sunset.

Yeah, that means it’s still a little jazzier than what we’d prefer to hear in a rock setting, especially once Hunter starts to sing about what brought him to the brink of despair before he decided to take stock of his life and settle on an appropriate fix, but as it goes on the horns become a little bolder, their parts taking on that idiosyncratic character that defines New Orleans music wherein each one seems on the verge of not fitting in with the overall arrangement yet somehow manage to work together and avoid clashing in spite of that first impression.

After Howard “Shorty” Baker’s trumpet dominates the track behind Hunter’s vocal it shifts to a more insistent sax solo which not only gives Changing Blues more of a leg to stand on in rock circles, but also double downs on Hunter’s claims that he’s going to grow a backbone when it comes to love, something which Ivory Joe seems to confirm with a briefly emphatic piano riff in the midst of that solo.

The second half of the record finds the horns weaving in and out of the song as Hunter’s piano takes on a more prominent supporting role, eventually the horns working in tandem as it heads down the stretch with a slow mourning wail before they each take a small, but notable, part in the brief coda.

One thing we can always be reasonably assured of with any Ivory Joe Hunter session is the music being thoroughly worked out, painstakingly rehearsed and carried out with precise care and this is no exception. But with that settled the focus invariably shifts to just how effectively Hunter can elaborate on – and subtly shift – the recurring theme he’s given himself this time around.

Broke Up Our Happy Home
Once again Ivory Joe Hunter starts off by telling us just how ineffectual he’s been when it comes to his relationship with his latest woman. I guess the one upside to these countless stories of heartbreak is that he at least seems to rebound from them enough to get another girlfriend each time around, unless of course he’s just recounting the same issues with the same girl in a myriad of ways.

Whatever the case may be though, this time he assures us he’s learned his lesson as he insists he’s “tired of being lonely and crying over you”.

Now the fact he still sounds morose, especially backed by that solitary trumpet during this confession, doesn’t fill us with much hope that he’ll be able to snap out of his depression, and sure enough as he goes on he’s focusing almost entirely on past grievances rather than defiantly stating what fun he’ll have now that he’s free of her, but as always while we might criticize his need to expound on this sadness, there’s no fault to be found in how poignantly he delivers these lines.

Probably because he has so much practice being down in the dumps Hunter knows just how to pull out every last drop of regret in the lyrics and get you to believe this is the result of real-life tribulations rather than artistic license for the benefit of a song.

But while we don’t doubt his authenticity it’s still a little hard to really sympathize with somebody who should know better by now. Yes, we fully understand that all songs have the right to be viewed as singular expressions of a specific situation unrelated to previous songs by the same artist, but Changing Blues fits into the already detailed portrait of Ivory Joe Hunter so well that it’s hard NOT to see it as a continuation of an ongoing defect in his personality.

The lyrics themselves, though not shabby by any means, are lacking anything notable in their descriptions of either the girl, the chain of events leading to this breakup or about his newfound determination that honestly seems more like momentary delusion on his part meant to put on a stiff upper lip as he contemplates the end of his relationship and the security that went with it.

But that’s the problem with using the same ingredients all the time, the taste tends to remain the same no matter what dish you’re serving up.


All Packed Up To Go
Clearly this is the kind of song that came easiest to Hunter and whether he found it struck a certain chord in the audience and thus he was inclined to keep re-using it to satisfy that demand, or if it was in fact an honest reflection of his own persona, by now this is something he could churn out like it was rolling off a conveyor belt.

In many ways you could call Changing Blues lazy and unambitious for examining the same topics – and even embodying the same state of mind – as past performances, but because he frames it in a musical motif that was slightly new for him we won’t be quite as harsh on his redundancy even if we long for something radically different out of him.

Still, if this was the best of the two sides being paired together then that probably told you all you needed to know about just what was left on the shelves of King Records now that Hunter had been gone for seven months. It may be nothing to embarrass him by coming out now but it’s hardly changing anyone’s impression of him either.


(Visit the Artist page of Ivory Joe Hunter for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)