Residents of Winston-Salem, North Carolina’s Ardmore neighborhood were surely spellbound as five teenage girls descended upon Miller Park, donning space-age disco robes, and eventually posing along a set of stone steps for the cover of First Time Around, their sole LP for Brunswick Records.
Although each member had established themselves in various gospel and secular combos, lead vocalist Carlotta Samuel’s musical roots ran the deepest, her father William Samuels and uncle Lowman Pauling being original members of the “5” Royales, most famous for their ubiquitous love ballad “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
Odyssey Five got their collective start singing alongside future labelmates the Eliminators during their raucous residency at East Winston’s Dungeon Club. When personal differences divided the promising group, Alonzo Tucker, who had produced the Eliminators’ Brunswick LP Loving Explosion, returned to the ironically named second-story dance hall looking for new talent. Dungeon owner Rodney Sumler suggested the attractive quintet, and, soon thereafter, the girls found themselves in Chicago, breaking ground on First Time Around.
Upon arrival, the group was handed lyric sheets and instructed to sing over prerecorded rhythm tracks. The surprisingly progressive compositions are full of melodic hairpin turns, in which chord, key, and tempo changes abound. Despite the complicated terrain, the fit seems natural, and the delivery appears stream of conscious; it’s as if the quintet is flying high above the sonic narratives, never glancing down at the vast and intimidating landscape below. Productionwise, the bass bubbles with funky playfulness, reminiscent of the four-stringed foundations laid by Headhunter Paul Jackson, while thick, haphazard coats of strings, brass, and harp saturate many of the more remarkable numbers. Overall, First Time Around is a solid collection of tender soul, portraying an emotionally dynamic game of tug-of-war between these strong women and the fictional men in their ghostwritten lives.
The group disbanded soon after the release of First Time Around, three of the five making their way to Italy to join the European disco ensemble Wess Machine. Led by Winston expatriate Wesley Johnson, Odyssey Five’s Carlotta Samuels, Jackie Sinclair, and Sylvania Wilson grace the cover of the Wess Machine’s 1977 album, Mr. Sympathy on Durium Records. The girls remained in Italy for two years, performing throughout the Mediterranean before eventually returning to Winston-Salem, where they still perform to this day.