Ruth Brown ‘Four Classic Albums’ 2CD (Avid R&B) 4/5

Singer Ruth Brown was an R & B/jump blues singer who reached her zenith in the late 1950’s and then suddenly faded into obscurity in the 1960’s when her style of singing became regarded somewhat passé with the advent of modern soul music, yet without her efforts and those of like minded singers, soul music would probably have never come into being.

This four album re-issue serves partly as a de facto ‘Greatest hits’ package for neophytes, with the odd early omission excepted, and serves as a showcase of her original album content for Atlantic records, including the wonderful 1959 outing, ‘Last date with Ruth Brown’, which was recorded when the singer was arguably at her zenith. This album captures Brown at her very best and is an atmospheric blues and R & B recording when urban black music was still at a crossroads with Ray Charles leading the way. In some ways, Ruth Brown can be seen as pre-dating Aretha Franklin as the ‘Queen of soul’ and it was the former wore the moniker of, ‘Miss Rhythm’.

It is important to stress from the outset that rhythm and blues is not simply an urban offshoot of the country blues, but rather a new emerging style that encapsulated and took on board the faster paced rhythms of life in the city, and indeed this reflected the mass migration of African-Americans from the southern states to the north. Black audiences referred to such singers as ‘jump’ or ‘jive’, the original master being Louis Jordan in the 1940’s and Ruth Brown very much fits into that mould. Indeed Ruth Brown continued that pioneering sound and scored major hits up until the 1960’s when urban black music was in transition with the advent of Motown and other like-minded independent labels.

Of interest to jazz fans will be ‘Late date with Ruth Brown’, which features may well loved jazz standards and these include memorable renditions of, ‘You and the night and the music’, ‘You’d be so nice to come home to’, and a Gershwin classic in, ‘I loves you Porgy’. However, most satisfying to these ears are the albums that are more of a cohesive individual package than a mere collection of 45s and add on’s. This is the case of ‘Ruth Brown Rock and roll’, which is a collection of both 45’s and E.P.’s from the early period of her career on Atlantic. These include the memorable ‘Daddy, daddy’, ‘Mama, he treats your daughter mean’, ‘So long’, and a gentle nod to the emerging then mambo craze with ‘Mambo baby’. Of historical note to readers is that Ruth Brown was the first major artist to be championed when the then fledgling Atlantic label was launched in 1949. In fact, she came with the personal recommendation of no less than Duke Ellington.

Tim Stenhouse