Ruth Brown ‘Miss Rhythm’ 180g Vinyl (Pure Pleasure) 4/5

If Aretha Franklin was the undisputed ‘Queen Of Soul’, then backtrack fifteen years or more and Ruth Brown was best known as ‘Miss Rhythm’, from which this excellent Atlantic album from 1959 is taken. Among her contemporaries her voice stood out from the slinky sophistication of Eartha Kitt, or the powerful, booming voice of Big Maybelle, both of whom appealed to their constituent audiences. In fact, Ruth Brown possessed a wide-ranging voice that could easily adapt contrasting musical contexts and so it proves on this album, which, like many of its time, was essentially a collection of 45s along with a few lesser known songs before the concept album had begun in earnest. Listeners new to original R & B should note that this is not a de facto ‘Greatest Hits’ album for it does not include the immortal sides such as ‘So Long’, ‘Man He Treats Your Daughter Mean’, or ‘5-10-15 Hours’. Instead, however, you have as the opening number one of Brown’s greatest ever interpretations in, ‘This Little Girl Gone Rockin”, which showcases the raunchier and grittier side to her wide repertoire. That said, there at least two slow ballad blues on this album worthy of your attention including the excellent, ‘Just Too Much’ and ‘Somebody Touched Me’, while in a more uptempo vein, ‘When I Get You Baby’ and ‘Book Of Lies’ impress. Twelve songs in total that stand the test of time remarkably well.

One of the reasons for Brown’s wide-ranging voice is to be found in her musical origins which started in the church as a gospel choir singer with her father, the director of the choir in Portsmouth, Virginia. There was an ongoing tension between her own desire to move into R& B and her father’s wish that she remain in the sacred tradition. Ruth Brown, early on in her career, faced numerous obstacles and in actual fact it almost never got started in the first place since she had to cancel her first live performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre in 1948, and, moreover, missed an appointment with the record executives at Atlantic records. However, once she had well and truly established her credentials, she never looked back and her immeasurable contribution to the success of the label earned her the sobriquet of, ‘The house that Ruth built’. The minimalist red, green and black front cover with photo of Ruth underneath the title speaks to the early and earthy period in record industry advertising. Now available finally in its original vinyl format, this is a welcome re-issue and highly likely to generate further interest in her back catalogue.

Tim Stenhouse