Something So Wright

Betty Wright isn't a great soul singer, but she sure is a good one, the kind who puts out enough fine singles to justify this terrific best-of collection. As if the music — classic early 1970s soul, replete with funk guitars and horn blasts — wasn't enough, this disc also is the rare compilation that reveals an artist's thematic consistency.

From the time of her first hit, 1968's "Girls Can't Do What the Guys Do" (RealAudio excerpt), Wright offered a version of feminism built upon a rejection of all the idiotic ways men act. That single, which she sang with remarkable assurance at the age of 14, broke things down in specifically gendered terms, as if to say, "Don't be like those cheating, vengeful guys." But read a little bit deeper, and you'll realize that when she sings, "You can't do what the guys do and still be a lady," she's really encouraging sisters to not stoop to the kind of romantic tactics that dehumanize everyone involved.

But from her biggest hit, 1971's "Clean Up Woman" (Real Audio excerpt) to lesser-known songs like 1973's gloriously funky "Let Me Be Your Lovemaker" (RealAudio excerpt), Wright's music succeeds primarily on its sound: dirty R&B in the verses and gleeful soul in the choruses. "Shoorah! Shoorah!" is a flat-out romp, stomping all over a man, while "Where Is the Love" rides a frenetic guitar line all the way home.

Even if Wright's voice isn't terribly distinctive — she's no Mavis Staples, but she comes close — she's got enough sanctified spirit to make a tune like "Secretary," a warning to women that if they don't satisfy their man, someone else will, sound more like an affirmation than a resignation. It's exactly that apparent contradiction that makes Wright's songs worth paying attention to.