If there is anyone qualified to do a tribute to the legendary soul singer O.V. Wright, It would be singer Johnny Rawls. He played guitar in Wright’s band and eventually became the musical director. The two men were friends and it was Rawls who was with Wright when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1980.
Backing up Rawls are the usual suspects from the Catfood band featuring Producer Bob Trenchard on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, and Richy Puga on drums & percussion. The horn section consists of Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, and Robert Claiborne on trombone.
The opening track, “Into Something (I Can’t Shake Loose)”, starts things off with a surprise. The first voice you hear belongs to Chicago soul legend Otis Clay. He trades gritty lead vocals with Rawls as the pair bemoan being in the clutches of a love that leaves them helpless, framed by the potent backing from the band. Clay appears on another Wright classic, “Nickel and a Nail”, his distinctive voice full of heartache compared to Rawl’s earthy charm.
Rawls brought in noted engineer Jim Gaines to remix three songs that appeared on his prior three CD releases. “Eight Men, Four Women” gets a dramatic reading from Rawls with the Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – adding sweet backing harmonies. A strong rhythm guitar line and blaring horns on “Ace of Spades” draw an energized performance from Rawls before he stares deep into the well of despair on “Blind, Crippled and Crazy”.
Rawls gives one of his strongest performances on “Poor Boy”, a lesser-known tune from early in Wright’s career. “Precious, Precious” is a ballad with an irresistible lilt. The band swaggers through “Don’t Let My Baby Ride”, giving Rawls the chance to show his seductive side. Clay returns on the lone original song, “Blaze of Glory”. Both singers offer robust promises to stay true to the music right up to their last breath.
Recently, Rawls received two nominations for prestigious Blues Music Awards, one for Soul Blues Male Artist and the other for this recording in the Soul Blues Album category. Here’s hoping that his project will encourage listeners to check out the O.V. Wright legacy. It is a truly fitting tribute, done with much love and respect.
Reviewed by Mark Thompson