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MGM 10951; MARCH 1951



A year ago Ivory Joe Hunter was on top of the world. Having jumped from King Records, where he’d been the most successful rock artist in terms of charted hits over the previous year and a half, to aspiring major label MGM, he reeled off three consecutive hits to start his tenure there, two of them hitting Number One.

Then things slowed down.

His records became more pop oriented and naturally their popularity fell. MGM was in a bind… they wanted hits, yet they were hoping that he’d be a crossover artist with pop appeal and it was increasingly clear that wasn’t going to be the case, no matter how much he catered to that audience.

So MGM went back in the vaults to last spring when he was riding high and pulled this one out, hoping that nearly a year later the slightly more rousing style he showed here might reverse the tide.


I Don’t Want To Come Around You And I Don’t Want To Stay Away
To cut to the chase… it didn’t. Though that might not really be Hunter’s fault, as MGM released this as a B-side with absolutely no promotional push, then immediately released another record they thought had more potential, making this an afterthought.

The shame of it is, though hardly a prospective rock hit, it’s better than the novelty that followed and far, far better than the pop dreck contained on the flip side which was actually even older, as they’d wisely rejected I Can’t Get You Off My Mind back in the winter of 1950.

Unfortunately the reason why they couldn’t get it off their mind apparently was because it was so maudlin. Though it’s as competently done as most everything he tried, the gloom on the record is palpable. If you ever wondered what a soundtrack for a funeral would sound like, this is surely one of the cuts to make the final track listing.

But it’s a different story for I Can’t Resist You, a modestly churning song that grows on you the more you listen. Though its horn arrangement is dated, even for 1950 let alone ’51, the vocals command your attention more than the music for the most part and Hunter again shows himself to be a disarmingly hospitable host, slowly breaking down your defenses against such lightweight music until you almost… almost… go along with it.

Almost, but not quite.

No Matter How Hard I Try
Those blaring horns which kick the record off and are taken a half step slower than most of the sources he took the concept from are completely off-putting but they quickly take a back seat to Ivory Joe himself who delivers a really strong nuanced vocal which effectively sells his turbulent state of mind when it comes to a woman whom he’s drawn to but should really take steps to avoid.

The reason for this conflict is obvious – she’s bad news personally, but absolutely wild in bed.

This being Ivory Joe Hunter though he’s not going to come right out and say it, though he makes it pretty damn clear, especially considering that in 1951 the joys of sex between consenting adults was talked about less openly than the joys of health benefits of drinking pig’s blood or how mothers occasionally behead their children’s dolls with demented glee when their kids were at school to relieve their frustrations as a housewives.

If you can’t read between the lines Hunter’s delivering on I Can’t Resist You however, you really aren’t trying. From his excited tone of voice when he’s thinking about her writhing body between the sheets to his revealing the compromise he’s come to where he’ll only see her once a week, the message is clear as day.

But as intriguing as it is to imagine him finally shedding his spectacles for a roll in the hay, what really sells this is his internal struggle over choosing between something immensely pleasurable and his self-respect or his long term interests – he never DOES say what makes her poison outside the bedroom, but it doesn’t seem to be any problem she has with him personally.

Throughout all of this Hunter’s voice takes on different shadings as the lyrics require, veering from resignation to anguish, determination to capitulation. He hits all of the moods with a deft touch and when his voice drops towards the end, knowing he’s got no chance to break away, it’s actually pretty moving.

Even though the resolution itself is a bit underwhelming – truthful in its outcome but not explosive as we might hope – the craftsmanship he displays to get through all of these emotional highs and lows is pretty impressive.

Too bad he found himself at bus stop outside an old folks home while telling this story and the geezers picked up their instruments and felt compelled to play along even though none of them had gotten laid since the Taft administration.

Oh well, they were going to get off at a stop for the early bird special at the diner long before he reached her house across the tracks anyway.


I’m Afraid I May Get Weak
This is always the problem with Ivory Joe Hunter as well as what brings some degree of comfort when it comes to his records even those that fall short, such as this.

He’s such a technician in the studio, so capable of shifting his approach slightly to adapt to different material and different sidemen alike, that he can win you over even when you are determined to refuse to go along with the sometimes outdated styles that stick to his records like pine sap.

I guess in a way that makes us like his character here who weakly protests I Can’t Resist You only to find themselves coming back for more in the end.

In this case though, if he’d had tenor saxes rather than trumpets and let his left hand carry more of the weight in this arrangement than his right, the same vocal performance would be set off by a much more appropriate sound and you wouldn’t be at all ashamed about giving into its charms.

We can’t quite do that here however, not when the horns are the equivalent of him taking a cold shower right before he walks in this girl’s door, but like Hunter himself who feels guilty about avoiding her, we feel guilty for penalizing him for the mistakes of others… even though as the songwriter and artist, and probably the one contracting the musicians even, he’s got no choice but to share the blame.

In the end this was not something that was going to help his cause any when it came to climbing back up the mountaintop, but it also wasn’t something to send him sliding back down the other side either. As usual, Hunter is clinging stubbornly to the cliff like a mountain goat, knowing that he’s got enough patience – and enough songs – to get back in your good graces again before long.


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