Ruth Brown said it best about her performance last night at Blues Alley: "I may be old but I ain't cold."
Although Brown's singing career spans nearly 35 years, she remains as vital as when she was known in the early '50s as "Miss Rhythm and Blues." There were some rough spots, but her set -- a few of Brown's biggest hits interspersed with jazz standards -- was carried by her exuberance, warmth and feeling.
After her four-piece backup band opened with pleasant but unremarkable versions of "I'll Remember April" and "Waves," Brown came on and started the tone of the evening with a bluesy "Secret Love." Her only notable shortcoming was immediately apparent: Like many other full-throated blues and rhythm & blues singers -- Brown has trouble bending and holding notes in slower, more sophisticated material. She is simply more effective with medium and uptempo numbers.
Two of her biggest hits --"5-10-15" and "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" -- were infectiously raucous rockers. To heighten the pleasure of a generally delightful set, guitarist Billy Butler and saxophonist/flutist Earl Swanson provided tasteful, swinging accompaniment throughout the set.
Brown will be at Blues Alley through Saturday.