Begin with a voice that is so versatile that it moves from a Janis Joplin-like, gritty harshness to a breathy, feline, Diana Ross meow - Terry Garthwaite. Add equal parts of a clear toned, sweeter voice and an intricate jazz based keyboard with classical overtones - Toni Brown. Blend and simmer until bubbling hot. Add strong bass and hypnotic drums, accent freely with congas, tambourines and cowbells. Heat in a crucible of jazz, blues, gospel and Latin rhythms and forms, and you've got the Joy of Cooking - a California band that was cooking from 1967 to 1972 amid raves for its special gourmet fare.
In 1973 Toni Brown left the band to concentrate on her personal, rather than professional life. After Brown left, Garthwaite kept the band together for nine months or so, but eventually went her separate way also.
"The Joy" (Fantasy F9538) represents the reunion of Brown and Garthwaite and the reformation of a backup band consisting of Reggie McBride on bass and James Gadson on drums. This first album also features numerous guest appearances, notably by Taj Mahal, Elvin Bishop and Bobbye Hall.
With the reformation comes the shortening of the name to simply The Joy, and with it also comes the clear understanding that the character of the Joy of Cooking was defined by Brown and Garthwaite, their continous disclaimers notwithstanding. Once again this is a band in which the key concern is for polyrhythms. The songs frequently seem experiments in rhythmical changes; they set up a syncopation only to undercut it immediately after it has been established. In a song like "Snow," the lyrics take a back seat to the rhythmical variety made up of unexpected changes and reversals. The words are jammed into rhythms that are themselves foreshortened, then elongated, then truncated. At the end the lyric line is telescoped into itself, breaking down into monosyllabic, urgent utterances. What we get is a constant sense of surprise as one rhythmic expectation disposes of a former while giving rise to another. Because of this unpredictability, this is the kind of record that bears several listenings in order to really hear what's going on.
One of the most successful cuts on the album and the one that probably best displays Garthwaite's vocal ability is Van Morrison's "Come Running." It is a fast-paced version in which the voice is used as both rhythmic and melodic instrument. In "On the Natch" and "Till Your Back Ain't Got No Bone," the percussive quality of Garthwaite's voice is foremost. For example, at the end of "Till Your Back Ain't Got No Bone" she closes off her larynx to create the effect of a series of stopped tones, as in a muted horn, stopped string or damped high-cat cymbal. In "Feel Like Heaven," on the other hand, her voice becomes sly, slippery and sassy. She sighs rather than sings her notes.
Unfortunately, none of the songs on this album allows Garthwaite's extraordinary ability at improvisational scatting to be demonstrated; we only get scatting snippets counter-pointed against Brown's voice in "Feel Like Heaven."
What is unusual for this rock band is the relative unimportance of the guitar, which generally occupies a backup position and rarely moves forward to take a melodic line, or for that matter even a central riff around which a melodic line might revolve. The exception is Toni Brown's "Morning Man" where guitar and dobro have a more central contrapuntal role. Yet, for the most part, Garthwaite uses her guitar as a rhythm instrument.
Throughout this album (except in "Steal Away" and "You Don't Owe Me Spring") the lyrics seem to take a second place to the music; that is, the lyrics are a skeleton upon which rhythmic and musical intricacies are wrought. Musical phrases rarely match lyric statements, and the natural, poetic rhythms of the lines are often contradicted by the musical rhythms. It is perhaps indicative of The Joy's intent that lyric sheets were not even printed to be included with the record. The words are further diminished because Garthwaite's voice is primarily used as a percussive instrument.
The basic weakness in this album is its dearth of new material. Of the 10 cuts, four are renditions of other artists'/composers' songs and one, "Beginning Tomorrow," made its debut on the Joy of Cooking's "Castles." (This new version is shorter and tougher: The piano introduction and saxophone solo have been cut, there is more rhythmic variation, and Garthwaite's voice is saucier.) So we really only get half an album of new material, which is disappointing for those of us who waited expectantly for more original songs by these artists. Despite this disappointment, however, I feel The Joy has the potential of being one of the best rock groups of the '70s.