Over the years, there have been some wonderful Southern soul singers, each possessing the most stunning and soulful voices. Some of these people will be familiar with, others they may not no so well. This has included familiar names like Arthur Alexander, James Carr, Percy Sledge, Sam and Dave and Wilson Picket. Today, I’m going to write about someone who isn’t as well known, O.V. Wright, who recorded for Hi Records, the same label as Al Green, Ann Peebles and Otis Clay. O.V. Wright was blessed with one of the most distinctive, soulful voices in the history of Southern soul. During his time with Hi Records, he recorded three great albums. Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose), the album this article is about, was his first release for Hi in June 1977. It was followed in July 1978 by The Bottom Line, which I’ve previously written about. The final album he recorded for Hi was We’re Still Together released in May 1979. Tragically, that would be the last studio album O.V. recorded before his death in November 1980, of a drug overdose, aged just forty-one. His time at Hi Records, saw him work with legendary producer Willie Mitchell who produced his three albums. Mitchell brought in The Memphis Horns and The Memphis Strings to augment Wright’s sound, as well as Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, Hi’s famous backing singers. Recorded at the Royal Recording Studios and Allied Recording Studios, these additions, and Mitchell’s production skills, brought out the best in O.V. Wright. Over a period of three years, he released three great albums, albums which are among the best Southern soul albums of the 1970s’. Now I’ll tell you just what made Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose) such a great album.
Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose) opens with the title track Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose). A piano plays dramatically before O.V. sings. His voice us hugely powerful and deeply passionate. He’s almost roaring before a great arrangement unfolds. When the arrangement unfolds, it swings beautifully along, strings, The Memphis Horns drums and guitars all accompanying O.V. At the top of the arrangement, The Memphis Horns play, with The Memphis Strings adding to what is a busy arrangement. Teenie Hodges guitar playing is excellent, he occasionally adds some crystalline solos to the arrangement, but never overdoes it. By now, O.V. really has hit his stride, and is giving a brilliant performance. That distinctive voice, one part power, to one part passion as he delivers the song brilliantly. Willie Mitchell’s arrangement is stunning, and his addition of strings and horns is a masterstroke. Overall, O.V.’s brilliant delivery, and Willie Mitchell’s production combine to make this one of the best tracks O.V. would record for Hi.
After such a passionate and powerful track, with an almost furious tempo, I Feel Love Growin’ sees the tempo drop. This allows the listener to get their breath back. Guitar and drums, open the track with the brass section announcing O.V.’s arrival. When he sings this love song, his voice is much slower, but still, that power is still present. Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes accompany O.V. here. Their voices a pleasant contrast to O.V.’s voice. Like the previous track, horns and strings are present, with the horns adding a dramatic twist, highlighting parts of the track. Between the horns and the backing singers, O.V. has the perfect accompaniment, bringing out the best in Willie Mitchell and Earl Randle’s song. During the track, guitar and drums play an important part in the track. The drums provide the track’s heartbeat, with the guitars playing subtly in the background. Although horns, strings, backing singers and band all play a huge part in the success of this track, it’s O.V.’s strong, impassioned and rasping vocal that’s the star of the track. Here, his vocal is laden with emotion, an intensity present as he sings the lyrics like he means them.
One of O.V.’s most best known songs is Precious, Precious, one of my all time favourite O.V. Wright songs, and one of the best songs released on Hi Records. From the opening bars, you’re instantly aware that something special is about to happen. For three and half minutes, O.V. gives one of the most passionate deliveries you’ll ever hear. The track opens with drums, organs and brass section, strings then joining. All this happens before O.V. sings. When he does his powerful, rasping voice delivers the song with passion and feeling, as he sings about a cheating woman who after all she’s done, is still the most important thing in his life. Behind him, the Hi team deliver the best arrangement on the album. Strings sweep in, the brass section interject, the rhythm section combine perfectly and some great guitar playing can be heard. As if that isn’t enough, Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes add backing vocals, which is the finishing touch. Willie Mitchell’s arrangement is perfect, he sprinkled his magic dust onto the track, and this resulted in a Southern soul classic. It’s melodic, full of hooks and absolutely brilliant. The best track on the album.
The Time We Have sees O.V. drop the tempo way down low, quite a change from the previous track. Here, it’s drums, guitar and strings that open the track. It’s a very different O.V. that sings, here he’s singing softly, accompanied by the lush sound of Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes, who are a perfect foil for O.V. Later, the brass section and Hammond organ play, setting a perfect atmosphere for what’s a beautiful tender love song. This results in another stunning arrangement, and yet another brilliant performance from O.V. Wright. My only quibble with this track is I wish it lasted longer, as it finishes rather suddenly at the end. Apart from that, it’s a heart breaking slice of Southern soul.
When You Gotta Have Love bursts brightly into life, it’s apparent it’s a very different track from the previous one. Out goes the sadness present in The Time We Have, in comes the much more joyous sound of You Gotta Have Love. Guitars, drum and brass section open the track, with Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes singing sweet backing vocals, keyboards play then O.V. sings. Here, his vocal is strong clear and thoughtful as he sings. A piano, strings and brass section join him, as the arrangement takes both a dramatic and joyous turn. This is down to O.V., The Memphis Horns and those brilliant backing singers. Together, they and the rest of the band produce another great track, which demonstrates just how talented O.V. and everyone connected with Hi Records were. Each and every one of them, contributed towards making this a great track.
Another of O.V.‘s songs many people will have heard is Trying To Live My Life Without You. Like Precious, Precious, it’s a song many people will be familiar with, but won’t be familiar with any of O.V.s other songs. It begins with the brass and rhythm sections combining, a guitar playing deep in the mix. When O.V. enters, he sings about a troubled relationship, how tried to live his life without his girlfriend, and how hard it was for him. During the track his voice is strong, soaring powerfully, as he passionately sings the lyrics with feeling. Behind him strings sweep, the brass section play, interjecting brilliantly just at the right time and the Hi house band demonstrate why they were one of the best bands in soul music. As usual, the backing singers accompany O.V., the lush and sweet sound they produce, a perfect contrast to the intensity of his rasping voice. For me, Precious, Precious was one of the best songs O.V. ever recorded during the short time he spent at Hi.
Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose) ends with a medley of three songs God Blessed Our Love, When A Man Loves A Woman and That’s How Strong My Love Is. It’s a dramatic introduction to God Blessed Our Love that greets the listener, a guitar chiming, drums playing really slowly and an organ playing. O.V. gives thanks to God for his love during the track, and behind him a piano plays with the drums slowly keeping the beat. Backing singers occasionally subtly accompany him, their voices much quieter than previously. Strings sometimes play, but mostly, the arrangement has a lovely understated quality. The best think about the track is O.V.’s vocal is passionate and spiritual, and he sings the lyrics as if they really mean something to him.
When A Man Loves A Woman is a song that’s perfect for O.V. It allows him to unleash that hugely powerful voice. Here, the arrangement has a similar understated quality, just drums, guitar, and occasionally, strings and backing vocals. An organ joins the track, and by now, the arrangement is growing and a fantastic Southern soul track is unfolding. Much of that is down to O.V.’s delivery which brings the song to life, and is laden with passion and emotion.
That’s How Strong My Love Is completes the medley, and like the other two songs, sees O.V. sing slowly and dramatically. Again, the arrangement sees drums provide the track’s heartbeat, with strings, organ guitar and backing vocals completing the line-up. Charles Hodges’ organ playing on the track adds to the emotion and drama. The interplay between O.V. and the backing vocalists is fantastic. They enter just at the right time, and their voices are perfectly suited to accompany O.V. and the song. A really slow tempo brings out the best in the song, and O.V.’s delivery is masterful. You get the feeling he’s giving his all here, a combination of power and emotion. Like the two previous tracks in the medley, this is another fantastic track, sung beautifully and passionately by one Southern soul’s greatest voices O.V. Wright.
O.V. Wright was one of the most talented Southern soul singers, and during his spell with Hi Records, he recorded three brilliant albums. That his music isn’t better known always puzzles me. He was blessed with a brilliant voice, worked with some wonderful musicians at Hi Records and had one of soul music’s legendary producers producing the three albums he recorded for Hi. Those three albums contain some great music, especially his first album for Hi Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose). Although there are only seven songs on the album, they include some brilliant tracks, including two of his best known track Precious, Precious and Trying To Live My Life Without You. Each of the tracks on the album is of the highest quality, unlike many albums, there’s no filler here. The Medley which ends the album includes one of the most passionate and emotional versions of When A Man Loves A Woman you’ll ever hear. After Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose) O.V. Wright released two further albums. The Bottom Line and We’re Still Together, both of which are also outstanding albums. During my research for this article. I discovered that the three albums O.V. recorded for Hi are available as part of a two-disc set entitled The Complete O.V. Wright On Hi Records Volume 1: In The Studio. This is a great way to hear some of the best Southern Soul music you’ll ever here. It’s well worth adding to your record collection, and I’m sure that quickly, it’ll become one of your favorite albums. Standout Tracks: Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose), Precious, Precious, The Time We Have and Trying To Live My Life Without You.