Monday, December 21, 2015
Toni Brown - Toni Brown (1979)
There is music that I like, music that I dislike, and music that I really, really, really love. Toni Brown's music falls into this last category.
Brown -- who is not to be confused with the former Relix magazine editor-turned-musician of the same name -- was the main songwriter for the early '70s folk-rock band Joy of Cooking. Joy of Cooking was one of the first major label rock bands to be led by women. They scored a modest hit in 1971 with the bouncy "Brownsville," a cover of a tune by bluesman Furry Lewis that wasn't really representative of their work
Their best material came in the form of Brown's thoughtful country-goes-to-college songs that were a precursor to artists like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Trisha Yearwood. (For the most comprehensive retelling of this band's story, check this Perfect Sound Forever article from ten years ago.)
After Joy of Cooking split up, Brown recorded two solo albums and then left the music industry. Both LPs are long out of print and neither has come out on CD. The first, Good For You, Too, from 1974, is a countrified effort. I'd love to present a rip of that, but the only copies I can find are too scratchy. Oh well.
Brown's second and final album was her self-titled release from 1979. It finds her pursuing a more jazzy and pop-oriented sound, something she said she took piano lessons to explore. This style suits her high-pitched voice well. And it brings an extra helping of sophistication to her compositions.
There are a lot of highlights here, like the opening "Knockin'" with its jangly chorus, and the lilting Michael Franks-like ballad "Listen to the Rain." Both "I Get Crazy" and "Wakiki, Why Not (Huma Huma Nuka Nuka)" show Brown displaying a humorous side she'd hadn't exhibited in her earlier work.
But best of all is a song that I consider the highlight of Brown's career. Hell, I consider it a highlight of all the music I've ever heard, and that's a lotta tunes. It's the song "Angel of Love," which was released as the album's 45 and sadly failed to chart. "Angel" boasts a positively brilliant melody and chord progression married to a totally convincing (and sometimes startlingly frank) lyric about urban alienation.
Needless to say, this makes for some potent listening. For me, this is one of those songs that I could play over and over, even if the male backing vocalists who pop up in the coda now sound a bit silly and dated (shades of Melanie's "Brand New Key"). Brown's former Joy of Cooking bandmate Terry Garthwaite cut a version of this song that's equally as good if not better. The two of them were also performing it live as early as 1974 with the band. People make lots of claims about songs being too ahead of their time to be hits, but this one definitely fits that bill and then some.
As for this album, if you've been reading this blog you know the drill. Clean rip; mint vinyl; scans of the covers and liners. Enjoy it because Toni Brown didn't put out all that much material in her time and there won't be another singer-songwriter like her coming 'round anytime soon.
Related post: Toni Brown - Good For You, Too (1974)
2. Wakiki, Why Not (Huma Huma Nuka Nuka)
3. Stop the Night
4. Listen to the Rain
5. Dance Me
6. Way Down Deep
7. Angel of Love
8. Love Is Strange
9. I Get Crazy
10. Two of a Kind
11. Evening Lullaby