'Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra'

‘Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’ (A&M Records, Dec. 7) pairs original hits with Richard Carpenter’s conducting new arrangements and recording at Abbey Road Studios.

Who knew how disappointed Richard Carpenter was even as he and sister Karen were building a musical legacy?

Not disappointed, surely, with their success. Songs such as “Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Monday” were musical gold for the duo that would tour extensively (814 concerts between 1971 and 1975, alone), appear on nearly two dozen television specials and chart their own particular brand of hit ballads and mid-tempo pop through the 1970s and early ‘80s.

Yet disappointed nonetheless with the technology of the time and the tepid results a tuned ear such as his would note in the final versions.

Karen Carpenter died in 1983 at age 32 from heart failure caused by chronic anorexia. But now, more than three decades later, Richard is setting things to right with a new release that advances the Carpenters’ continuously evolving body of work.

“Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” is a masterpiece of craftsmanship on myriad levels.

Richard Carpenter, long noted as a gifted arranger, conducts the orchestra, adding an oboe line here, a bassoon there, a piccolo trumpet where it makes sense and some of the most lyrical string arrangements you will hear from any orchestral body.

The result is inspired — and as near perfection as Richard Carpenter had always hoped.

“The latest technology was employed to make right a number of blemishes and oversights in the original recordings that have been haunting me for years,” Carpenter writes. “To wit, key instruments in several of the songs were slightly out of tune and were not noticed by us until the records were either mixed or released … minor clicks, squeaks and creaks ultimately found their way into a completed record, much to our chagrin.

“All have now been either expunged or corrected.”

But exorcising musical gremlins isn’t the real beauty of this release. That lies in combining the multi-tracked harmonies of the “Carpenters sound” with songs Richard selected specifically to suit Karen’s three-octave voice range and the work of a majestic orchestra. The final version is a marriage crafted so precisely it produces a recording you didn’t know you were missing until you put in the ear buds.

About those ear buds: noise-deafening environs are the only way to listen to this release. Only in the solitude of a closed environment with the volume at an appropriate level will you catch here the nuances of Richard Carpenter’s definitive work.

And that work is extensive. Stunningly arranged, Carpenter’s brilliant overture segues into the most-appropriate “Yesterday Once More” and eases from there into every hit you’d expect to find, ending not-so-surprisingly given his lifelong efforts to keep the music moving forward, with “We’ve Only Just Begun.”

The overall effect is the crafting of more than a bit of nostalgia for any listener of a certain era who came of age borne on these sentimental lyrics and smooth harmonies.

“Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra” completes an evolution of a signature styling long recognized for its influence on both generations and genres of music-making.

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