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MGM 10899; JANUARY 1951



This is more like it…

After being coerced into copying his biggest hit in an ill-advised sequel which adorned the top side of this single, here Ivory Joe Hunter at least gets to explore his own muse again.

Not that it turns out to be a great record by any means, in fact it’s heavily compromised by forces beyond his control, but we’d always rather see a creative artist strive to come up with something new and different rather than being asked to endlessly repeat themselves for skittish record companies who feel the only original ideas worth pursuing are ones from the past that had already paid off.


I’ve Got Diamonds And Everything
Heading into this review, especially coming off our criticism of the docile ambitionless rip-off I Found My Baby, you might worry that we’d try and overcompensate for Ivory Joe Hunter heading in a new direction rather than treading the same old ground. But doing so would be almost as troubling as had we overlooked the duplication of I Almost Lost My Mind on the top side and excused it because the melody was still nice and he sings well, no matter what tripe comes out of his mouth in the process.

In other words you gotta call ’em as you see ’em rather than go into things with an agenda.

That was never more true than on I Ain’t Got No Gal No More which presents us with a daunting problem as rock chroniclers, namely this song comes from the August session at which Hunter was backed by an actual orchestra which produced his last hit, the pure pop concession, It’s A Sin.

Luckily this has much more of a rock vibe in Hunter’s vocals which grants us a bit of leeway in covering it, but if we go TOO far we’re at risk for suggesting that just because it’s an entirely new concept for him that the results are all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.

Conversely if we wind up slaying it too much for its blatant striving for upward mobility in the way it’s being framed, we’re basically saying that the song itself that sits amid all that lace and ribbon is inconsequential.

So yet again we find ourselves forced to walk a tightrope when it comes to praising Ivory Joe Hunter’s creative instincts and criticizing the means with which those ideas came to fruition.


Goodness Knows, Goodness Knows
First the good, since we spent most of the last review focused on the bad… which we’ll get to here soon enough.

Once again Ivory Joe Hunter comes up with an interesting song in almost every way… it’s got a sneaky melody (when you can hear it behind the blaring horns that is), a nice laid back vocal that employs a very subtle hesitation move throughout, kind of a stuttering progression which builds anticipation for what is to follow along with some new musical touches buried in the mix that, had they been brought out into the open, might just have been enough to send this into the mid-to-high range of the scoring around here.

Even the title, I Ain’t Got No Gal No More, with its triple negative breaking all of the grammatical rules that someone like Hunter was far more prone to follow than most of the crude rock degenerates of renown, gives this record a casual vibe that begs to be heard unadorned to see just how he might’ve tackled it in a small club setting somewhere in the sticks after midnight.

Instead we get the eight o’clock show at The Ritz.

But before we put on our tie and tails and wipe our feet to go in, it’s worth taking another few seconds to appreciate the record’s best attributes starting with the insistent piano lead-in and the oh so alluring guitar that weaves its way through the arrangement behind his calmly self-assured vocals.

It’s not a sound we’re used to hearing with him, at least not this kind of guitar, which sounds like he lured someone playing at a sidewalk café in Paris to come to the studio with him and contribute something that was equal parts melodic and atmospheric to the song. It never dominates the record, but you’d have liked to have heard what it would sound like if it had been given the opportunity to do so in other circumstances.

As for the story, it’s pretty self-explanatory in the title of course, but Hunter expounds on it with some slice of life scenes that may just be snapshots rather than films, but are pretty vivid for their time constraints showing once again how at his best Ivory Joe could pack a lot of images and insight into very few words.

But more than the lyrics it’s his vocal delivery that makes this work as well as it does, conveying something akin to caustic resignation… someone who remains a step away from bitterness on one side while pulling up just short of weary acceptance on the other.

His pained nonchalance is really effective here all of which makes the unwelcome “contributions” of the orchestra particularly cruel for him to have to contend with.

Man It Doesn’t Work At All
Let’s say that if you were to ignore everything being sung here other than the sound of Ivory Joe Hunter’s voice, but without really connecting with the underlying mood of his singing, you might be inclined to admit that the orchestral flourishes added to this arrangement “fit” in a musical sense.

In other words, the spots they’re deployed in are well chosen, they show admirable restraint and never intrude directly over the primary part of the song which is Hunter’s performance.

But that said they sure do make themselves known in the margins, barging in every chance they get to make a controlled racket before bowing out again, leaving you wondering if it was a pack of elephants that came charging through the studio rather than a bunch of musically educated middle-aged men with wives and kids and a house in the suburbs who looked at their profession as a business more than an obsession.

Naturally that means they’re all wrong for anything calling itself I Ain’t Got No Gal No More. They’d be thrown out of the orchestra pit by the conductor for using such guttural slang and subsequently either tossed out of the musicians union or told to sit in the corner with a bar of soap in their mouths.

It’s an altogether alarming sound. At their worst their parts are the musical equivalent of being a teenager who’s getting busy with their girlfriend in their bedroom when their mother opens the door with some laundry to put away, but really because “it was awfully quiet in here!” and finding you with your hands up the front of her shirt and guilty looks on your faces as you hastily pull away from each other.

Their presence also drags this further and further away from rock ‘n’ roll which is the equally egregious crime and during the bridge they almost succeed in that nefarious attempt at civilizing our intrepid hero and only Hunter’s vocal insistence, almost uncharacteristically growling the last few lines to drive the point home that this wasn’t HIS idea, staves off that ignominious fate.

But unfortunately it is on HIS record and though we can wish that the orchestra had eaten some three day old seafood that gave them food poisoning and sent them all to the infirmary before the session started, we have no choice but to severely dock an otherwise very good record for their presence.


My Friends Give Me Their Sympathy
Sometimes it seems as if poor Ivory Joe Hunter is cursed, or at least eternally trapped between serving two masters. When he’s followed up a strong run on King Records it enabled him to move to the aspiring major label MGM which may have even paid him in actual dollars.

He notched three straight hits on three straight great releases to kick off that career, then found himself veering more towards satisfying the label’s pop aspirations. The flamboyant and out of place orchestra on I Ain’t Got No Gal No More is evidence of those misplaced aims, taking one of Hunter’s best and more atypical compositions and neutering it to a large degree with their insistence to have that orchestra work for those paychecks whether or not they’re actually being useful.

Had they left them on the sidelines for this cut and simply used them on the poppier material recorded that day we’d be singing the praises of this record. Somewhere, let’s hope, is a crude demo version with the core group before the stuck up snobs unpacked their gleaming brass from their fur lined valises and overwhelmed the proceedings.

Until that can be uncovered – or dreamed up in vivid 48 bit digital sound – then the record as released will remain nothing more than a tantalizing “what if?”.


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