Before Aretha Franklin
was exalted as the Queen of Soul, Ruth Brown was dubbed "Miss Rhythm" -- and with good reason. A gritty, aggressive belter with an impressive range and a powerhouse of a voice, Brown was the top female R&B singer of the early to mid-'50s, and would directly or indirectly have an influence on such greats as Etta James
and LaVern Baker
. A two-CD set ranging from Brown's early hits to engaging obscurities and rarities, Miss Rhythm
offers a fine overview of her Atlantic years. Early hits like "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," "Teardrops From My Eyes," "Mambo Baby," and "5-10-15 Hours" point to the fact that a lot of early R&B was essentially blues at a fast tempo. The set also reminds of early R&B's connection to jazz -- in fact, classics like 1949's "So Long" (her first single) and "Have a Good Time" are examples of first-class torch singing. There are numerous Brown albums that are well worth acquiring, but for those interested in exploring her early music for the first time, Miss Rhythm
is an excellent place to start.