In the music business, much is made of an artist’s “unique” voice and style, yet few truly individual voices exist. Despite only releasing three albums between 1988 and 1994, Toni Childs remains an instantly recognizable voice and this first-ever collection is full of her best work.
A late bloomer on the recorded music front, Childs had spent the bulk of the 1970s in various California rock and blues bands, including a brief stint as the original lead singer for Berlin. Her first band under her own name included future members of The Bangles and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
In 1988, Childs collaborated with David Ricketts (of then-hot David & David) on her A&M Records debut, Union. Her most commercially successful effort, it showcased Childs. husky voice amidst the dark ‘80s synth work of Ricketts, a potent combination that sounded like an updated Marianne Faithfull. The strongly R&B-influenced “Don’t Walk Away” and the ethereal “Walk and Talk Like Angels” received significant airplay, and they are both included here. Childs earned a Best New Artist Grammy nomination and toured with Bob Dylan.
The next step was a couple of soundtrack cuts, one a cover and the other the title track of her second release. Her version of “Many Rivers to Cross” was featured on the Lost Angels soundtrack, which has been out of print for years. Its inclusion here is a welcome bonus, as she puts her usual overabundance of soul into the performance. “House of Hope” was first heard on the Thelma and Louise soundtrack, and it became the title song of the inevitable second album.
The darker aspects of Childs’ tumultuous early life were explored in the themes of House of Hope, though she managed to find the strength in her own struggle with songs like the title cut and “Dead Are Dancing”. By the time of her third album, Childs had switched to DGC records, which earned her another Grammy nomination for Female Rock Performance, if not the sales figures a major label requires of an artist. Cameos from Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp, and Zap Mama echoed the world beat of her earlier albums.
Though she has virtually dropped off the face of the musical earth in the last six years, this collection is a welcome reminder of the strength of her singular musical voice.