Heaven Came Down To Earth
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Part of Razor & Tie's line of terrific mid-90's retrospectives of underappriciated 50's stars (Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Willis among them), "Since I Met You Baby" does exactly what those others did - namely, state the case for greater reknown. Hunter is virtually strictly remembered for the song from which this collection takes its name, a massive hit from late '56/early '57 which remains one of early rock 'n' roll's slow dance classics. More astute fans will be able to name his two 1950 R&B chart toppers, "I Almost Lost My Mind" and "I Need You So", both of which were revived mid-decade by white stars (Pat Boone, hitting #1 Pop with a surprisingly admirable version of the former, and Elvis Presley who did the latter expertly in '56 for an album). Other than that, only true historians would be able to delve deeper into Hunter's legacy.This is the best place to start your education then. Taking 25 songs from two labels, this spans the entire 1950's, his most prolific stretch of recording, gathering up nine R&B and Pop hits, plus some truly fantasic non-charted sides to paint a fuller picture of a veteran musician who was capable of delivering in any style.Hunter began recording back in 1933 while still a teen and by the 40's owned two record labels making him one of the first black men, and one of the first artists of any race, to run his own company. Both disappeared quickly, but not before giving him his first Number One hit ("Pretty Mama Blues" - available on other collections of his 40's work). A brief stop at King Records gave him a few more hits and by the time he landed at MGM Records in 1950 he was primed for the start of the R&B revolution that would lead to rock 'n' roll.That's where this collection picks up. The first five cuts are from those early 50's MGM years and showcases Hunter's feathery piano, pleasant, intimate vocals and his prolific writing (he penned over 2,500 songs in his lifetime, including a few specifically written for Presley, who befriended him in 1956) all of which made Ivory Joe (which was his real name) one of the era's best R&B balladeers along with Percy Mayfield and later Johnny Ace. When rock 'n' roll dawned in the mid-50's Hunter was already past 40, but the hit cover versions of his songs by Boone, Presley, even pop stars the McGuire Sisters (busy ripping off every black R&B singer they could find, grabbing his "It May Sound Silly" for a trip to the Top 20), and Teresa Brewer (who copped "A Tear Fell" from him and took it to #5) proved he still could connect with younger audiences. As a result, now on R&B powerhouse Atlantic Records, Hunter stormed back into the spotlight with back to back smashes "Since I Met You Baby" and "Empty Arms" that made him, along with Big Joe Turner, the 1950's oldest rock 'n' roll star. With "Empty Arms" in 1957 he resumed a flirtation with country-sounding R&B which he'd started on King Records with great success in '49 ("Jealous Heart" - #2 R&B), a move that far preceeded Ray Charles more famous groundbreaking move from R&B to C&W a few years later. Just one of the many reasons why Hunter is deserving of a Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame induction for which he has thus far been shamefully denied.This disc shows Hunter at his best - from the ballads he was most adept at and known for, but also offering him as a smokin' bluesman ("I Feel So Good") and a strong-mid-50's rocker ("I Want Somebody", "You Mean Everything To Me", "You Flip Me Baby"). The liner notes are very informative, there's a full sessionography including sidemen, recording and release dates, as well as a few pictures. It is not an album that will knock your socks off on first listen, Hunter just wasn't the kind of performer. If given a chance for repeated listening though, it will slowly sneak up on you until you find yourself uncontrollably humming "I Almost Lost My Mind" on the subway, elevator or in board meetings, (or on the school bus and playground), while people look at you oddly. Let those quizzical onlookers listen to this disc though and soon they'll be humming along too."
Get out of Jail Free
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Y'all ever been in the doghouse with your significant other? Take a tip from a cop who does, chum and learn to sing 'Since I met you Baby' like Ivory Joe Hunter, and you MIGHT survive if you'll pipe up at the right time. Any fool can sing it (trust me) but nobody sings it like Ivory Joe. This is almost as good as wearing a kevlar vest (you just can't trust those gals from Texas). Lots cheaper, too. Seriously, that one cut makes the whole CD, there's other goodies on here, you too can learn to do the mambo. But 'Since I Met You Baby' is the real Get Out Of Jail Free Card."
A Puzzling Mix For A "Best Of" Album
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When putting together this 26-track compilation, ostensibly covering "the best" of this genial giant from Kirbyville, Texas (born October 10, 1914), the producer at Razor & Tie had 22 hit singles with which to fill out the album, including two double-sided hits, which means there was room for four more uncharted B-sides.
Well, although you do get three B-sides, you are also getting 13 cuts that were not among his best - at least from the aspect of their being hits. Nor were tracks 4, 5, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 19 to 23 even the B-sides of hits. All of which means you get just nine of those 22 hits and three of their flipsides. Hardly what you would call a definitive "best of" collection.
In fact, none among his 10 first charters are here: Blues At Sunrise (# 3 R&B in December 1945 on the Exclusive label and billed to "Ivory" Joe Hunter with Johnny Moore's 3 Blazes; Pretty Mama Blues (# 1 R&B for 3 weeks in early summer 1948 for 4 Star/Pacific; Don't Fall In Love With Me (# 8 R&B in late summer 1948); What Did You Do To Me? (# 9 R&B in October 1948); I Like It (# 14 R&B in December 1948); Waiting In Vain (# 5 R&B in September 1949) - the last four all on King; Blues At Midnight (# 10 R&B in September 1949 - actually recorded in 1947 and released then on Pacific, and this year on 4-Star); Guess Who (# 2 R&B in fall 1949) and its B-side, Landlord Blues (# 6 R&B) and Jealous Heart (# 2 R&B in December 1949) - both on King Records.
His first MGM hit is here, however, as I Almost Lost My Mind became his second # 1 R&B hit, and stayed there for 5 weeks in early 1950 featuring Taft Jordan on trumpet b/w If I Give You My Love (not here). Pat Boone would cover the A-side in 1956 and take it to # 1 Billboard Pop Top 100. They then omit I Quit My Pretty Mama which King released on the heels of I Almost Lost My Mind, and it went to # 4 R&B featuring Johnny Hodges on alto sax b/w It's You Just You. But S.P.Blues is here and, again featuring Taft Jordan, it got to # 9 R&B in March 1950 b/w Why Fool Yourself (omitted here).
Later that spring I Need You So on MGM became his third # 1 R&B hit b/w Leave Her Along, but the flip is left out here as are both sides of his next and last MGM hit, It's A Sin, which reached # 10 R&B in December 1950 b/w Don't You Believe Her. In 1951, Eddy Howard & His Orchestra would have a # 1 Pop hit with It's A Sin.
He would then be off the charts until 1955 when, now with Atlantic, It May Sound Silly, topped out at # 14 R&B in May b/w I Got To Learn To Do The Mambo billed to Ivory Joe Hunter And His Ivorytones. That same year The McGuire Sisters would have a # 11 Pop Top 100 hit with the A-side. Almost a year later, and again with The Ivorytones sharing the billing, A Tear Fell reached # 15 R&B in March 1956 b/w I Need You By My Side. And, once more, a Pop cover, this time by Teresa Brewer, scored at # 5.
Late in 1956 he had his fourth # 1 R&B, and his first Pop Top 100 cross-over, with Since I Met You Baby, which spent 3 weeks at # 1 in the early part of 1957 b/w You Can't Stop This Rocking And Rolling (excluded here). A few months later, Empty Arms got to # 2 R&B/# 43 Top 100, losing out on the Pop charts to another Brewer cover (# 13), b/w Love's A Hurting Game, which also charted at # 7 R&B. The Ray Ellis orchestra backed him on those last three hits. Late in 1958 he would have his last Atlantic hit when Yes I Want You peaked at # 13 R&B/# 94 Billboard Pop HoT 100 b/w You Flip Me Baby. His final hit anywhere came for Dot in early 1959 when City Lights struggled to # 92 Hot 100 b/w Stolen Moments (neither included here).
The sound reproduction on all tracks is excellent, and in the insert you get five full pages of background notes written in August 1994 by Mark Humphrey, a couple of nice photos of Ivory Joe, and a discography of the contents showing dates recorded, musicians involved, and chart details (only label details are missing)."