In her first Gotham gig in five years, and fully recovered from knee surgery and the effects of a stroke, Ruth Brown retains her crown as the undisputed queen of rhythm and blues.
The feisty 76-year-old diva holds court from a cushy throne these evenings, seated at a music stand overflowing with a songbook of standards that have peppered her remarkable six-decade career.
Brown has retained her vocal powers, singing with a dusty, strong voice that boasts a syrupy, mellow texture for the ballads and a belting strength for the big, bold notes. She still projects with considerable force, her timing is on target, and she can swing like mad. Recalling her 1943 debut at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Brown revived the old Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke movie tune “It Could Happen to You,” a Bing Crosby hit and a mellow highlight of Brown’s Fantasy CD “The Songs of My Life.”
The singer digs deep into the past for a mellow “(Goodbye, I Hate to See You Go, But) Have a Good Time” and her rhythmic 1953 chart topper “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean.” Brown briefly recalled friends who have long since departed and confessed to knowing all the secrets of the past. “I’ve climbed a few mountains in my time,” Brown reminisced, “and I can still sing a lullaby like you never heard before.” She does just that with a persuasive reading of Victor Young’s cinematic reverie “Love Letters.”
Brown re-creates her Tony-winning turn in the 1989 Broadway tuner “Black and Blue” with Andy Razaf’s saucy “If I Can’t Sell It, I’ll Keep Sittin’ on It.” It’s still a naughty showstopper.
Brown has the gritty support of a quintet led by guitarist Rodney Jones and featuring the burly tenor sax of Bill Easley and Oliver Von Essen at a burnin’ Hammond B3.