Ruth Brown is a septuagenarian chanteuse of impeccable pedigree. Her latest album is a tasteful blend of blues and jazz, dominated by a classy and noticeably New Orleans brass section. It is a studio album, but recorded as if live. The CD consists of a well chosen selection of covers and specially written originals.
The sadness for great singers is that the voice eventually fails and Ruth's is starting to go. On the songs of loss this only adds an affecting piquancy. The voice may have lost some of its power, but still retains its power to move, especially on the poignant "A Lover Is Forever." Equally commendable are the two slow blues numbers: the title track and "The Richest One." Two tracks are semi-spoken comic monologues - rap is too vulgar a description. For the more jazz tinged rest, her sheer enjoyment of performing shines through even if her enthusiasm occasionally overwhelms her artistry.
The album ends with "I Believe I Can Fly," the R. Kelly song everyone has heard of, as a sop to pop kids. It is ill judged. The original was a banal dirge leavened by vocal twiddly bits. The band give it the rock anthem treatment and then some: I'm sure the drummer has a kitchen sink in his kit, but they can't disguise the fact that Ruth no longer does twiddly.
This CD is for those who already own Ruth Brown CDs, who even now are reaching for their credit cards. Novices are advised to start elsewhere: why not try her previous release on Bullseye "R+B=Ruth Brown." Better still, if you get the chance, catch her live.
Rounder Records Corp., One Camp Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140 USA.
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Rikki Willis, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.