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. That’s why I’ve always championed O.V. Wright’s music. In some ways, O.V. Wright was overshadowed by the commercial success and critical acclaim Al Green was enjoying. They were both n the same label, Hi Records. Whereas, Al Green had numerous critically acclaimed albums, O.V. only released three studio albums for Hi Records, The last of these three albums was We’re Still Together, released in May 1979. Nearly thirty-five years later, We’re Still Together will be rereleased by Fat Possum Records. 

We’re Still Together proved to be the final album of O.V. Wright’s career. Tragedy struck just over a year later when O.V. Wright died, aged just forty-one, due to a drugs overdose. This tragedy saw Southern Soul robbed of one of its great talents, and a man with an unmistakable and inimitable voice. O.V. Wright’s time at Hi Records lasted three albums and less than two years.

O.V. Wright’s Hi Records debut was Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose), which was released in June 1977. The followup was The Bottom Line, which released in July 1978. The final album that O.V. Wright released for Hi Records was We’re Still Together. Sadly, that would prove to be the final album of O.V. Wright’s career. Just over a year later, O.V. Wright was dead. His musical legacy is the three albums that he released for Hi Records, which in 1979, was a very different record label.

Just like his two previous albums for Hi Records, We’re Still Together was recorded at Royal Recording Studios and Allied Recording Studios, with Willie Mitchell producing the album. Hi Records was a very different label. Familiar faces had left, with new personnel taking their places. 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 on albums released by Hi Records. Their backing vocals graced just about every album released by Hi Records.This was just the latest change at Hi Records, following the label’s takeover by Al Bennett’s Cream Records. One thing didn’t change though, the music.

What didn’t change was the standard of songs O.V. Wright would record. Earl Randle cowrote six of the tracks with a variety of songwriting partners. He wrote I’m Gonna Stay with Willie Mitchell James Shaw collaborated with Earl on 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. These songs were recorded by O.V and Hi Records’ new version of the Hi Rhythm Section.

When recording began, The Hi Rhythm Section featured bassist Leroy Hodges, drummer Gene Charisman, former Bar-Kays’ guitarist Leroy Michael Toles and keyboardist Aarion Nesbit. The South Memphis Horns and The Memphis Strings augmented The Hi Rhythm Section. When We’re Still Together was completed, it was released in May 1979.

Sadly, regardless of the quality of music on We’re Still Together, it wasn’t a commercial success. Southern Soul and sou in general were no longer as popular. Disco had been flavour of the month. Ironically, by May 1979, it was on life support and fighting for its very life. During the past few years, soul singers like O.V. Wright, 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 which by Earl Randle and Richie Key cowrote. Rasping horns, swirling strings, a funky rhythm section and chiming guitars combine to create an uptempo joyous sound. An appreciative O.V. gives thanks that he’s still together with his partner. A funky bass is a permanent fixture. So are the rasping horns, lush, swirling strings and sweet sounding harmonies. 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. Having said that, it works well and plays an important part in Willie Mitchell’s arrangement. Add to that, O.V’s  emotive and passionate vocal and it’s a perfect 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. He’s at peace, ready to take on the world, because of the love of his partner. With the harmonies for company, 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, rasping horns and O.V. combine to produce a 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. Here, a heartbroken O.V. is accompanied by a slow, thoughtful arrangement. It has a lovely understated sound. Just the rhythm section, guitars and strings combine with harmonies. They accompany a desperate and lonely O.V. As the arrangement meanders along, with braying horns occasionally bray, while O.V. lays bare his hurt and pain.

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. Just a piano, slow rhythm section and guitars combine before a despairing and disconsolate O.V. enters. He’s desperate having lost the woman he loves. Punchy sounding harmonies add to the drama of O.V.’s vocal as the arrangement unfolds. The arrangement builds. Sad, dramatic strings combine with rasping horns, a dramatic rhythm section, piano and searing, chiming guitars. Adding the finishing touch is O.V’s desperate, heartbroken vocal. The result is a hidden gem from O.V. Wright, Southern Soul’s best kept secret.

I’m Gonna Stay is 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 combine 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 harmonies subtly sweep in. The tempo is slow, a wandering bass and slow, pensive drums combine to provide the track’s heartbeat, while the horns and harmonies punctuate the arrangement. By the end of the track, you realise that the Willie Mitchell and Earl Randle songwriting partnership have triumphed again, producing an emotive opus, one that’s all the better for having O.V. singing it.

Funky describes The Hurt Is On. 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 join the wah-wah guitars and growling horns as the arrangement gets even better. Providing a contrast are sweet, soulful harmonies. Although this isn’t a slice of Southern Soul, it’s one of We’re Still Together’s highlights. It’s best described as five magical and majestic minutes of a fusion of angry, funky, soulful 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 him. Chiming, searing guitars, piano and rhythm section slowly combine to produce a sad bluesy sound. Horns rasp and the Hammond atmospherically wails sympathetically. Adding the finishing touch to this bluesy track are the lushest of strings, which accompany the desperate O.V.

Mirror of My Soul sees O.V. return to Southern Soul. A moody Hammond organ, rhythm section and braying horns combine slowly. Then sad, yet lush strings enter. When O.V’s vocal its wistful and rueful. His gravelly vocal gently sings of his love for a woman who has transformed his life, made him happy and “brought meaning to his life.” Meanwhile, a slow,  heartbreaking arrangement gradually reveals itself. Harmonies punctuate the arrangement to this beautiful, tender songs which is one of the best songs O.V. recorded for Hi Records.

We’re Still Together closes with Sacrifice. His half-spoken vocal is accompanied by the rhythm section, piano and guitars. Later, horns rasp, 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, tender harmonies sweep in. They 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 tale of  heartbreaki you begin to sympathise and empathise with O.V. That’s how real he makes the hurt and pain seem. No many singers could bring lyrics to life like O.V. could.

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. This makes We’re Still Together a poignant album. O.V. breathes life and meaning into the lyrics. It’s as if he’s lived, loved, and just about survived the heartbreak and hurt he’s singing about. That’s why the music is variously full of despair, heartbreak, hurt, joy and sadness. He’s also rueful and thankful. The nine songs on We’re Still Together are like mini soap operas, with O.V. Wright playing a starring role. Sadly, however, We’re Still Together wasn’t a commercial success.

We’re Still Together seemed to pass most people by. Less than a year later, O.V. Wright died, aged just forty-one, due to a drugs overdose. This tragedy saw Southern Soul robbed of one of its great talents. The man with that unmistakable and inimitable voice, O.V. Wright released just three albums during less than two years. Music had lost a truly versatile singer.

One listen to We’re Still Together and you’ll realise just how talented and versatile singer O.V. Wright was. If he’d been released We’re Still Together at the start of the seventies, he could’ve been a huge star. Why? Well, O.V. was able to sing everything from blues, funk and Southern Soul. That’s apparent on On We’re Still Together. How many other artists could change styles with such ease? Not many. Despite his versatility, commercial success and critical acclaim eluded him. 

That’s why O.V. Wright is regarded as one of soul music’s best kept secrets. Maybe not any more. Fat Possum Records are in the process of rereleasing much of  Hi Records’ back-catalogue. This includes 1978s The Bottom Line and We’re Still Together. These two albums are the perfect introduction into the music of O.V. Wright. These two albums were made during a difficult time for O.V. Wright.

During the recording of We’re Still Together, O.V. Wright was allegedly addicted to heroin. He wasn’t the first musician to find himself in this situation. Remarkably, the music on We’re Still Together wasn’t affected by O.V.’s heroin habit. That’s quite incredible, as a heroin habit can really destroy an artists talent and creativity. Not O.V. Wright. He was in the groove, making some of the best music of his career. Sadly, it was his addiction to drugs that cost O.V. Wright his career, and life. O.V. Wright died in November 1980, aged just forty-one. This was far too young. There was much more music in O.V. Wright. However, tragically, that wasn’t to be, and the legacy O.V. Wright leaves behind is something we can all share and cherish, some soulful 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.Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose),

O.V. WRIGHT-WE”RE STILL TOGETHER.

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