Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joy of Cooking [extended]

  • Joy of Cooking [Capitol, 1971] A
  • Closer to the Ground [Capitol, 1971] B+
  • Castles [Capitol, 1972] A-
  • The Joy [Fantasy, 1977] B+
  • American Originals [Capitol, 1993] A-
  • Back to Your Heart [Njoy, 2007] *

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Joy of Cooking [Capitol, 1971]
Led by ex-folkie Toni Brown (the principal composer) and ex-blueswoman Terry Garthwaite (whose three rhythm songs sizzle joyously), this may not be your idea of rock and roll. The music revolves around Brown's piano, which rolls more than it rocks, and the band goes for multi-percussion rather than the old in-out. I find it relaxing and exciting and amazingly durable; I can dance to it, and I can also fuck to it. The musical dynamic pits Brown's collegiate contralto against Garthwaite's sandpaper soul, and the lyrics are feminist breakthroughs. "Too Late, but Not Forgotten" remembers a trailer camp while "Red Wine at Noon" touches international finance, but the two protagonists are united by one overriding fact--they're victimized as wives. And it's about time somebody in rock and roll said so. A

Closer to the Ground [Capitol, 1971]
I knew Toni Brown was a folkie, so it shouldn't surprise me that a lot of this is organic bullshit gone to rhythm school--the title of the title cut speaks for itself, and "Sometimes Like a River" might also be like a "Rainbow," "Mountain," or "New Wind" (adjectival scansion, they call that trick in rhythm school). Depressing to hear somebody who knows as much about male-female as "The Way You Left" and "First Time, Last Time" apply her creative-writing skills to anti-urban bromides. Graded leniently because I like the way (and how much) Terry Garthwaite sings (and writes). B+

Castles [Capitol, 1972]
If last time Toni Brown was betrayed by her folkie upbringing, this time she makes something of it, leading off elegantly with a modernized blues, "Don't the Moon Look Fat and Lonesome," and following up quickly enough with "Lady Called Love," a modernized heroic ballad. Both the incitements to independence and the love advisories are more general than need be, but the music has grown crisper and fuller while continuing to flow as swimmingly as you'd hope. A-

The Joy: The Joy [Fantasy, 1977]
Maybe freedom from preconceptions has enabled this group, which never achieved its proper impact to begin with, to make the best comeback LP in memory, but more likely it's the quality of the competition. Because basically this is just a good Joy of Cooking album. It probably helps that Terry Garthwaite and Toni Brown now work with black studio musicians--the white ones on Cross-Country did nothing for them, and neither did the hassle of maintaining a band. But this music is about sure-brained songs and an ever richer vocal interplay, just like always, and if Toni's "You Don't Owe Me Spring" reminds me never to forget her penchant for limpid soppiness, everything else makes clear that once a rock band defines itself as adult it need never grow old. B+

American Originals [Capitol, 1993]
Corny? Marin to the core. But Toni Brown was smart enough not to tie her literary gifts to an acoustic guitar, and Terry Garthwaite understood blues as unsung writer and born singer--hear her scat the Alberta Hunter cover. When Holly Near was still in Hair, they led the only group ever to turn the folk-jazz mush of "women's music" into something a self-respecting carnivore could eat. A-

Back to Your Heart [Njoy, 2007]
Outtake keepsakes and cooking jams from the Berkeley hippies who invented a "women's music" that was never so fast, smart, or soulful again ("Brownsville/Mockingbird," "Bad Luck"). *

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