O.V. WRIGHT-WE”RE STILL TOGETHER.
O.V. WRIGHT-WE”RE STILL TOGETHER.
I’ve always thought that O.V. Wright was one of the most underrated Southern Soul singers of his generation. In some ways, his music was overshadowed by the success of Al Green, who was on the same label as O.V. Hi Records. Whereas, Al Green had numerous critically acclaimed albums, O.V. only released three studio albums for Hi. The first of these was Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose), which was released in June 1977. His second album was The Bottom Line, released in July 1978. The final album that O.V. released for Hi, and the final album of his tragically short career was We’re Still Together, released in May 1979. Tragically, just over a year later, O.V. Wright died, aged just forty-one, due to a drugs overdose. This tragedy saw Southern Soul lose one of its great talents, and a man with an unmistakable and inimitable voice.
We’re Still Together, like his two previous albums for Hi was recorded at Royal Recording Studios and Allied Recording Studios, with Willie Mitchell producing the album. It had been all change at Hi, with familiar faces leaving, being replaced by new personnel. One of the changes was the new Hi Rhythm Section and augmenting The Memphis Horns, were members of The South Memphis Horns. Another change was that backing singers Rhodes, Chalmers, Rhodes only appeared on one track, I’m Gonna Stay. Previously, they’d been a permanent fixture at Hi, their backing vocals gracing the best albums on Hi. This was just the latest change at Hi, which was undergoing a number of changes after being taken over.
What didn’t change was the standard of songs for O.V. to record, with Earl Randle contributing six of the tracks with a variety of songwriting partners. One of these was Willie Mitchell, with whom he’d written a number of great track. Their collaboration was I’m Gonna Stay, which closed side one of We’re Still Together. James Shaw collaborated with Earl on two songs, I Found Peace and The Hurt Is One. The nine songs on We’re Still Together were a combination of Southern Soul, with a sprinkling of funk. This was an intriguing and quite brilliant combination.
Sadly, regardless of the quality of music on We’re Still Together, it wasn’t a commercial success. Albums like this were no longer as popular, with many people preferring the now hugely popular disco music. Soul singers live O.V., Bobby Womack and even other artists on Hi like Otis Clay, Ann Peebles and even Al Green were no longer as popular. This was unfortunate, as many great soul albums passed almost unnoticed, including We’re Still Together, which I’ll now tell you about.
We’re Still Together opens with the title track, We’re Still Together one of six tracks co-written by Earl Randle, this time with Richie Key. With a combination of rasping horns, swirling strings, funky rhythm section and chiming guitars, the track opens.It has an uptempo joyous sound, with an appreciative O.V. grateful that he’s still together with his partner. A funky bass is a permanent fixture, as are the rasping horns, lush, swirling strings and sweet sounding female backing vocalists. They provide a contrast to O.V. raspy voice. Later, a sultry saxophone drenches the arrangement with its beauty. This addition is quite a departure from his two previous albums, with The Memphis Horns never usually playing solos. However, this really helps the track, and with a stunning arrangement from Willie Mitchell and an emotive and passionate vocal from O.V. it’s a fantastic way to open the album.
I Found Peace is a mid-tempo track that has a slight funky sound throughout. The arrangement combines elements of the M.F.S.B. rhythm section with the best of Southern Soul. Lush strings, accompany the rhythm section and chiming, shimmering guitars, before O.V.’s vocal enters. It’s a joyful O.V. we hear, at peace, ready to take on the world, because of the love of his partner. With the female backing vocalists accompanying him, and the rhythm section locking into a gentle funk based groove, the track sweeps along. Adding to the Southern Soul sound in a Hammond organ, which atmospherically wails. Keyboards also enter, as do rasping horns, and together with O.V, they combine to produce a really catchy, hook laden track, that sweeps beautifully along.
There’s a noticeable change in style and sound on It’s Cold Without Your Love, written by Jim Dotson and Earl Randle. It’s a heartbroken O.V. accompanied by a slow, thoughtful arrangement with a lovely understated sound. Here, it’s just the rhythm section, guitars and strings that combine, with female backing vocalists, accompanying a desperate and lonely O.V. The arrangement meanders along, with braying horns occasionally punctuating the sound, while O.V. emotively sings his heart out, displaying hurt and pain throughout this hugely moving track.
Sisters Aretha and Carolyn Franklin co-wrote Baby, Baby, Baby, a track that bursts into life with horns blazing, before giving way to a slow emotive sounding track, where piano, a slow rhythm section and guitars combine before a despairing and disconsolate O.V. enters. He’s desperate having lost the woman he loves, downcast and lost. With punchy sounding backing female backing vocalists accompanying him, who add to the drama of O.V.’s vocal, the track unfolds. O.V.’s The arrangement grows fuller, sad, dramatic strings combining with rasping horns, a drama laden rhythm section, piano and searing, chiming guitars. This impressive sounding, hugely sad combination combined with O.V.’s vocal is a potent and emotional combination that sounds quite brilliant.
Side one closes with a song many people will be familiar with, I’m Gonna Stay, the only track that Willie Mitchell co-wrote with Earl Randle. When you hear the first few familiar bars, it’s like meeting an old friend. There’s a real Southern Soul sound to the track, the rhythm section, guitars and Hammond organ combining with O.V.’s raspy voice. It’s a belligerent O.V. we hear, whose decided to stay with his partner, just to spite her. Horns blaze in, while the backing singers subtly sweep in. The tempo is slow, a wandering bass and slow, regular drums combine to provide the track’s heartbeat, while the horns and baking singers punctuate the track. By the end of the track, you realize that the Willie Mitchell and Earl Randle songwriting partnership have triumphed again, producing a great track, one that’s all the better for having O.V. singing it.
It’s a very different sounding track that opens side two of We’re Still Together. The funk drenched The Hurt Is On, which has wah-wah guitars, blazing horns and the funkiest of rhythm section accompanying O.V.’s angry vocal. This is a song with a social conscience, that amazingly, is even more relevant today than in 1979. O.V. sings about the problems of unemployment and poverty, against a backdrop that wouldn’t sound out place in a Blaxploitation movie. With swirling, strings joining the wah-wah guitars and growling horns, the arrangement just gets better. Providing a contrast are the some of the sweetest backing vocals on the album. Although this isn’t a slice of Southern Soul, it’s one of the album’s highlights, five magical and majestic minutes of a fusion of angry, funk and soul music.
A wailing Hammond organ, piano and rhythm section combine to provide a bluesy sounding backdrop for O.V.’s vocal on Today I Sing the Blues. Again, it’s a sad and lonely O.V. we hear, his girlfriend having left time. While chiming, searing guitars, piano and rhythm section slowly combine to produce a sad bluesy sound, horns rasp and the Hammond atmospherically wails sympathetically. Adding just the finishing touch to a really moving and great sound blues track are the lushest of strings, which accompany the desperate O.V.
After a diversion via funk and then the blues, O.V. returns to familiar territory, Southern Soul on Mirror of My Soul. A moody Hammond organ, rhythm section, guitars and rasping horns combine slowly, before sad, yet lush strings enter. After a lengthy introduction, a tender vocal from O.V. enters. His throaty vocal gently sings of his love for a woman who has transformed his life, made him happy and “brought meaning to his life.” As a slow, sad arrangement gradually reveals itself, with female backing vocalists punctuating the track, you realize that this beautiful and tender song is one of the album’s highlights. Not only that, but it’s one of O.V.’s best songs of his Hi period.
We’re Still Together closes with Sacrifice, with O.V.’s half-spoken vocal accompanied by the rhythm section, piano and guitars. Later, horns rasp, punctuating the arrangement, while strings sweep slowly and sadly. Together, they provide the perfect backdrop for a heartbroken O.V. He sings about the pain and hurt he’s suffered, his girlfriend having left him. With the strings and piano playing important parts in the arrangement, backing vocalists sweep in. Their gentle and sweet voices provide a contrast to the heartache and pain in O.V.’s voice, as the sad and melancholy arrangement flows along. By the end of this beautiful, tender yet heartbreaking song, you begin to sympathize and empathize with O.V. so real is the hurt and pain he displays. This demonstrates his talent and versatility, how he could deliver any song, and brilliantly bring the lyrics to life.
As I finished listening to We’re Still Together, it struck me that this was the last album of O.V.’s tragically short career. He was such a hugely talented singer, able to sing a variety of songs from Southern Soul, blues and even funk. On We’re Still Together, he displays this versatility, with the funk laden The Hurt Is On, followed by the bluesy Today I Sing the Blues, before returning to the familiar territory of Southern Soul on Mirror of My Soul. How many other artists could change styles with such ease, and deliver different styles of music so convincingly? O.V. Wright could, and although he only recorded three albums for Hi Records, they’re three great albums, full of the highest quality of music. On Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose and The Bottom Line, both of which I’ve previously reviewed, O.V. demonstrates his versatility and considerable talent. On We’re Still Together, there had been a number of changes at Hi Records, with many of the people who’d played on his first two albums leaving, and been replace by new personnel. Although you can tell the difference in the rhythm section, horns and backing vocalists, this doesn’t detract from the quality. If anything, it brought something new and fresh to the album, that made this subtly different from his two previous albums. Of the nine tracks that make up We’re Still Together, they’re of the highest quality, with no filler or makeweights, just great music. Remarkably, the music on We’re Still Together wasn’t affected by O.V.’s heroin habit, something that could really destroy an artists talent and creativity. It seemed that O.V. was just as good as ever, still in the groove, still making great music. Sadly, it was his addiction to drugs that cost O.V. Wright his career, dying aged just forty-one, far too young and with so much more music to produce. However, tragically, that wasn’t to be, and the legacy O.V. Wright leaves behind is something we can all share and cherish, some brilliant music, including his final album We’re Still Together. Standout Tracks: I Found Peace, Baby, Baby, Baby, The Hurt Is On and Mirror of My Soul.
O.V. WRIGHT-WE”RE STILL TOGETHER.