Toni Brown - keyboards, vocals; Terry Garthwaite - guitar, vocals, percussion; Jeff Neighbor - bass, percussion; Fritz Kasten - drums; Ron Wilson - congas, harmonica
The Berkeley-based band, Joy of Cooking, were quite the anomaly in the late 1960s; a band fronted by two women, who wrote and arranged the songs, sang lead vocals and played the frontline instruments, with three men providing the backup. Led by two talented songwriters, pianist Toni Brown and guitarist, Terry Garthwaite, their music blended elements of folk, rock, country, jazz and blues into a sound uniquely their own. One of the first bands to deal with feminist and environmental topics, they were ahead of their time. They also deserve credit for paving the way for far more commercially successful bands like Heart and latter-day Fleetwood Mac.
This recording, when Joy of Cooking opened for The Byrds, captures the group in their prime. All three of the tunes featured in this performance were penned by Toni Brown, an intelligent and diverse songwriter. The first two, "Too Late, But Not Forgotten" and "Only Time Will Tell Me" both derive from the band's self-titled debut album. The former, a song of love lost, features Brown's sweeter vocals in the lead position with Garthwaite's grittier vocal timbre providing distinctive harmony. The latter, feature's Garthwaite's distinctive lead vocal, with Brown providing harmony on a bluesy number that clearly shows the stylistic differences in these two woman. Brown was coming from a singer-songwriter standpoint, influenced by folk, rock and jazz, where Garthwaite was clearly a rocking blues musician. It was the unique blend of these two talents that created the magic, a prime example of the sum being far greater than the individual parts. Both of these songs are quite accessible and still sound fresh today, proving that this band deserved more attention.
The set ends with "Laugh, Don't Laugh" a standout track from their second album, Closer To The Ground. This up-tempo, heavily rhythmic number shows the group at their most inventive. Both women share the lead vocals here and they get a chance to flex their musician muscles as well. The brief jam that ensues has significant distortion issues on the recording for a minute or so, but then clears up, proving what a gifted pianist Toni Brown is, while the rhythm section propels things along.
Fans of the bands first two albums will thoroughly enjoy this set and newcomers will find it a good introduction to what Joy of Cooking was all about. In the late 1960s and early '70s, no American group led by women was this musically adventurous. It's that great diversity, along with a culture that was unable to appreciate women in such a strong role, that relegated them to obscurity. It certainly wasn't the music, which holds up far better than much of the male-dominated music of the era.