Chances are that Gary Primich and O.V. Wright's paths never crossed - certainly not musically, at any rate. In ways they're vastly different. Gary Primich, who passed in 2007, was known for tough, working class blues driven by his probing, inventive harmonica work and featuring whip-smart songwriting. Overton Vertis White (1939-1980), revered as one of the deepest of the classic deep-soul singers, spent most of his time on the Chitlin' Circuit. He died of a heart attack en route to a gig, in the presence of Rawls, at that time Wright's musical director.
Rawls, who's always been forthright in acknowledging his reverence for Wright, has included tracks from the latter's catalog on three previous albums, and they're here, re-mastered, along with another six associated with Wright and one original. They're all sterling, rock-solid gems, and Rawls sings with more grit and gravel than ever. Few could match Wright's sheer, searing intensity, but Rawls does the material justice. He's also joined by another soul legend, Otis Clay, who brings his own gospel fervor to three tracks.
Mowery's approach is a little more eclectic - as he says, "It's not a tribute so much as a collaboration with the Primich family." Mowery, whose harmonica is eerily reminiscent of Primich's distinctive tone, hand-picked a group of friends to play some tunes from the core of his catalog, as well as two Primich compositions discovered posthumously and recorded here for the first time.
The results, in both cases, are absolutely excellent. Neither strays far from the template established by the honoree - indeed, those acquainted with either of the deceased artists will find much that's familiar, from material to the overall sound. Mowery's vocals, like his harp, bear an uncanny resemblance to his late friend's, and Rawls has become a deep soul master in his own (ahem) right. The players involved know the material in and out -stylistic differences aside, they all live and breathe this stuff.
Yet the quality that shines through both projects is the loving respect and personal and professional esteem Rawls and Mowery bring to proceedings. Neither is out to re-invent nor reinterpret, and they're both humble enough to shine the spotlight squarely on the artist they're honoring rather than themselves; these are both, to resort to cliché, 'labors of love,' and both are worthy and wonderful.