Review: Joy of Cooking, Joy of Cooking
The UK record label Evangeline has a very interesting catalog. On the one hand they have a sweet collection of hard to find psychedelic San Francisco rock that is largely being ignored by US labels that includes albums like Sons of Champlin’s Loosen Up Naturally, Dinosaurs’ Friends of Extinction, and “Copperhead” featuring Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina. On the other hand, they are the UK distributers for Govt. Mule and Hammel on Trial. Lots of variety there.
Joy of Cooking’s self-titled first album is part of their ’60s and ’70s San Francisco collection. The band was from Berkeley, across the Bay from San Francisco, and included Toni Brown (keyboards, vocals), Terry Garthwaite (guitar, vocals), David Garthwaite (bass), Fritz Kasten (drums) and Ron Wilson (percussion). The band stood out from the other bands in the SF area at the time in several ways. The most obvious were the two front women, Brown and Garthwaite, who sang, wrote most of their tunes and played the lead instruments. The two had been singing together for several years before the full band coalesced and it shows. Their voices are markedly different. Garthwaite, who takes most of the lead vocals is somewhat reminiscent of Janis Joplin in phrasing and timbre (but not in emotional power, and to Garthwaite’s credit, she doesn’t try to emulate Janis), while Brown has a softer and more “folkie”-type voice. The two sound exceptionally well together and at times they play off each other so intimately they sound like two voices with one mind. The band also stands out in that Wilson, the percussionist, is seen as an integral part of the group and his percussion is well miked and integrated into the band’s sound. Part of the reason they called themselves Joy of Cooking was that they cooked, as in they frequently stretched out with danceable jams in which Wilson’s percussion plays an important role. “Did You Go Downtown” is a good example.
The band also had, at times, a distinct country rock sound. Sometimes this results in songs that, save for Brown & Garthwaite’s intertwined vocals, sound like any number of other country rock tracks from the period. At other times, however, they use the hee haw stuff as a launching pad for much more exciting things. “Brownsville/Mockingbird” progresses as an up-tempo country shuffle until they morph into Mockingbird and the song takes off with Brown and Garthwaite trading call and response before Garthwaite takes over. It rocks.
Brown and Garthwaite are clearly the draw here but Joy of Cooking never presented themselves as two women stars with a backup band. They were a five person band and a very good one at that. “Joy of Cooking” holds up very well. Nice of Evangeline to keep this music in print.
Listeners who enjoy “Joy of Cooking” might also be interested in the band’s second album “Closer to the Ground“.
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