• Two exciting new Carpenters releases are in the pipeline! The new book Carpenters: The Musical Legacy will be available on November 16, 2021 and can be ordered here. A big thanks to the authors and Richard Carpenter for their tremendous effort in compiling this book! Also, the new solo piano album Richard Carpenter's Piano Songbook is being released January 14, 2022, and is available for ordering here.

🎄 Holidays! THE OFFICIAL REVIEW: [Album] "CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT" SP-4726

How Would You Rate This Album?

  • ***** (BEST)

    Votes: 52 78.8%
  • ****

    Votes: 13 19.7%
  • ***

    Votes: 0 0.0%
  • **

    Votes: 1 1.5%
  • *

    Votes: 0 0.0%

  • Total voters
    66

Chris May

Resident ‘Carpenterologist’
Staff member
Moderator
Thread Starter
Yes you nailed it Jarred. Ave Maria is quite moving and that bell intro is brilliant. I've instructed my spouse if there is to be any kind of "service" for my demise, Ave Maria as sung by my favorite vocalist of all time is to be done over whatever sound system is available. And the B-side will be Crescent Noon.

And imagine if she had completed the vocal on the Schubert version ...
 

ullalume

Well-Known Member
'I'll Be Home for Christmas' is one of my favourites on the album - a lovely but quite bittersweet reading that stands out from the jollity of many of the other songs.

'Yearning' is exactly the right adjective to describe the performance. The last 'if only in my dreams' line says it all - the almost aching wish to be part of something that it seems will be unfulfilled in reality.
Yeah, always been my favourite from the album, and in my top 5 of all their songs. It's also one where the '96 remix is preferable to me....a controversial view, I know.
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
Yeah, always been my favourite from the album, and in my top 5 of all their songs...
Her version is wonderful (what else?) and I vaguely remember reading a review of the recording by I think it was a music critic for some Chicago newspaper who praised the lovely vocal performance and the song's nostalgic or "longing" feel...

It's one of my favorites along with "The Christmas Waltz" , but my very favorite - even above "Merry Christmas, Darling" - is "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", a song with much nostalgia of it's own - Richard's arrangement is perfect (yes, even with the chorus, who do a great job here both backing Karen and briefly taking over the reprise) and Karen's vocal absolutely soars - one of her very best ever (I have this on a CD I made of my favorite non-Christmas Carpenter songs simply because it's such a great recording of a beautiful song)...

According to Wiki "I'll Be Home..." was a big hit for Bing Crosby in 1943 and was later recorded often by others, some of which charted. This article goes on to say:

The song is sung from the point of view of a soldier stationed overseas during World War II, writing a letter to his family. In the message, he tells the family he will be coming home and to prepare the holiday for him, and requests snow, mistletoe, and presents on the tree. The song ends on a melancholy note, with the soldier saying, "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams".[3][2] The flip side of the original recording (Decca 18570B) was "Danny Boy" [4]

It also mentions that the song was banned in England during the war because it was felt that it would lower morale too much.
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
This is from a post written a decade ago or so and describes the appeal of what we hear:

As for the vocals, the spotlight is Karen’s. With her dark, melancholy alto, the way she subtly scoops up to her notes, the texture in her voice as it ever-so-softly cracks, and her empathic understanding of lyrics, she fashions a style that feels less like a style than the sound of a human heart breaking.

Take I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The song is a story with a killer twist of a last line, one that reveals the singer’s promises of returning home for Christmas are lies, mere fantasy – that the only way the singer is going anywhere, alas, is in her dreams. The pain in that line is nowhere to be found in most renditions. When Karen sings “if only in my dreams,” the pain is more than palpable, it’s exquisite.

If it’s a truism that only one who knows despair can know joy, Karen proves it on the happier material. You can feel the winter air on her Sleigh Ride, you can breathe in the roasting chestnuts in her Christmas Song. She takes songs you thought you never needed to hear again and makes you hear the greatness in them.”
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
Her version is wonderful (what else?) and I vaguely remember reading a review of the recording by I think it was a music critic for some Chicago newspaper who praised the lovely vocal performance and the song's nostalgic or "longing" feel...

This is the one: Carpenter's voice: The stuff of dreams

And these are responses the author received after publishing that piece:

ST. CHARLES -- How I enjoyed your article on Karen Carpenter. I agree with you 100 percent. What a beautiful and unique gift she had, and such a tragedy to lose her.

I'm so tired of the "pop-divas" with their machine-gun vibratos reaching into the upper scales. While they may be considered technically accomplished, they are indistinguishable from one another.

When Karen Carpenter is singing, my head turns and I say "aaaahhhh," only one of her!

Merry Christmas.

-- Sheridan Florence

AMES, Iowa -- "Strikingly neutral" is a good way to express the quality of Karen's voice. For me, she nailed the note without artifice and tremulous, never sneaking up from behind or the side of a tune to strike something different the way so many others try. Who needs "different" when being true to the music as written is all that's required? But of course that's the problem. Few are able to "just sing."

Thanks for the well-expressed tribute. It's so good (and often rare) that someone agrees with me.

-- Phyllis Harris

NAPERVILLE--For years I have argued that the best female vocalist that I had heard in my lifetime was Karen Carpenter. Had her life not been cut short, I'm certain that more people would feel this way. Her presentation was pure and effortless.

She never seemed to strain to reach a note. She didn't flaunt her talents with departures from an original composition the way that many contemporary artists do. You can keep your Barbras, your Mariahs, and your Celines. In my book, they all pale in comparison to Karen Carpenter.

John Madormo

LEMONT -- I don't normally read your section of the newspaper, but the Carpenter name in the headline caught my attention. I share your appreciation for the unusual quality of Karen's voice and the way she delivered the lyrics. I was such a fan that when I hear her voice, I get angry with her for taking it away from me so soon.

-- John Pianowski

SYCAMORE -- Last night as I turned into my development after driving from O'Hare, I was listening to Karen Carpenter sing "I'll Be Home for Christmas," so it was very enjoyable to read your column of an appreciation for her. I am a longtime listener of all Carpenters albums and agree that there has not been another voice such as hers. Thanks for the very nice article, remembrance and sentiment.

As I'm sure you know, she also played drums (occasionally) for their band and she had great taste in automobiles, once owning a beautiful rust and beige 1956 Chevrolet convertible.

-- Wed Lundsberg

CHICAGO -- Thank you for an unexpected gift for Christmas: a touching tribute to one of the most gifted female singers of all time, Karen Carpenter. There are not many writers out there who would delve into the obscure subject of the purity and near perfection of Karen's technique. Karen's voice had no pretense. She knew where to go with a song and simply delivered. The minute you hear that rich alto, you know it's Karen.

Call it what they will, but many of us have a love affair with a voice that is so intimate, it almost seems as if she's right there in the room with you. Her untimely death leaves me to wonder what other great material would have emerged from this amazing talent. Richard Carpenter once said: "If I knew we were going to lose her so young, I would've not had her sing stuff like `Beechwood- 45789.'"

Thank you again for reminding us of that inimitable voice, the "girl next door" we all loved and still love: Karen Carpenter.

-- Matthew Cortez

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS -- I just read your article on Karen Carpenter and the song, "I'll Be Home for Christmas." I immediately got a sense of deja vu -- in the sense that you took the words right out of my mouth -- words that I have been saying since they started playing holiday songs this year. The song itself is beautiful -- but what makes it so special is the rendition by Carpenter. I've heard it sung by countless singers in all genre's of music -- but no one brings the unique touch that she does -- with her crisp, clear (you hear every note) -- and in her own way, soulful singing. Her voice was an amazing instrument -- and never more perfect than in singing this song. It is such a shame that we were robbed of such a talent.

-- Linda Rudolf
 
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Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
If you read that out of context you’d never realise the writer was actually talking about Christmas songs.

Seriously. I remember someone once said that when discussing Superstar and her other non-holiday output. It’s too real and its clarified in a different way when in the context of music that it’s largely supposed to be celebratory.
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
This is from a post written a decade ago or so and describes the appeal of what we hear:

As for the vocals, the spotlight is Karen’s. With her dark, melancholy alto, the way she subtly scoops up to her notes, the texture in her voice as it ever-so-softly cracks, and her empathic understanding of lyrics, she fashions a style that feels less like a style than the sound of a human heart breaking.

... The pain in that line is nowhere to be found in most renditions. When Karen sings “if only in my dreams,the pain is more than palpable, it’s exquisite.
Bold text in quote mine...

I love that post - who wrote it, you Jarred? Beautifully stated!

I've often noticed and marveled at that "soft cracking" or as I like to think of it "sexy, subtle growing" in her voice at certain always appropriate points in the reading of the lyrics...and palpable, but exquisite pain is right on point!
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
This is the one: Carpenter's voice: The stuff of dreams

And these are responses the author received after publishing that piece:

What a beautiful and unique gift she had, and such a tragedy to lose her.

When Karen Carpenter is singing, my head turns and I say "aaaahhhh," only one of her!

Who needs "different" when being true to the music as written is all that's required? But of course that's the problem. Few are able to "just sing."

For years I have argued that the best female vocalist that I had heard in my lifetime was Karen Carpenter. Had her life not been cut short, I'm certain that more people would feel this way. Her presentation was pure and effortless.

I share your appreciation for the unusual quality of Karen's voice and the way she delivered the lyrics. I was such a fan that when I hear her voice, I get angry with her for taking it away from me so soon.

...and agree that there has not been another voice such as hers.

There are not many writers out there who would delve into the obscure subject of the purity and near perfection of Karen's technique. Karen's voice had no pretense. She knew where to go with a song and simply delivered. The minute you hear that rich alto, you know it's Karen.

Call it what they will, but many of us have a love affair with a voice that is so intimate, it almost seems as if she's right there in the room with you.

Thank you again for reminding us of that inimitable voice, the "girl next door" we all loved and still love: Karen Carpenter.

Her voice was an amazing instrument -- and never more perfect than in singing this song. It is such a shame that we were robbed of such a talent.
Thanks so much Jarred for finding that article and linking to it - Yes, that's the one!

And thanks also for the responses - I've pulled my favorite parts out of them - Crap! I think I'm getting all misty-eyed...
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
Bold text in quote mine...

I love that post - who wrote it, you Jarred? Beautifully stated!

I've often noticed and marveled at that "soft cracking" or as I like to think of it "sexy, subtle growing" in her voice at certain always appropriate points in the reading of the lyrics...and palpable, but exquisite pain is right on point!

No, I didn’t write that, is from a blog post I found. I think Paul Williams said he was always drawn to the mix of the sensual and melancholia in her voice, differing qualities that help form the identity of that sound. I remember another said that her take on Santa Claus ICTT sounds like Karen is wistful as ever but coming downstairs to greet Santa in a silky, naughty nightie.
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
Thanks so much Jarred for finding that article and linking to it - Yes, that's the one!

And thanks also for the responses - I've pulled my favorite parts out of them - Crap! I think I'm getting all misty-eyed...

I read that piece this time of year because I love how he explains how much she adds to the seasonal classics. I love that he got responses from people who couldn’t not say something about how much she moves them.
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
I just had my first annual listen to CP tonight (many more to come this season), and the album confirms that Karen is the rare artist who’s artistry evolves with the listener. I heard some songs differently than before, new nuances opened up, new thought and feeling. Some songs made me tear up for than they had before.

I swear I never fail to turn into a mess during Christ is Born - that she can take a religious song and make it both rooted in faith and somehow simultaneously attain secular appeal was part of her gift. Her humanistic storytelling abilities remain unmatched.
 

Carpe diem

Well-Known Member
Noticed at least one Sacramento-area radio station is already on their Christmas format. Usually they wait until the day after Thanksgiving. I will have to tune in now because I get such a thrill hearing that first lovely sound of Karen over-the-air.
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
Noticed at least one Sacramento-area radio station is already on their Christmas format. Usually they wait until the day after Thanksgiving. I will have to tune in now because I get such a thrill hearing that first lovely sound of Karen over-the-air.

Stations east had started about two weeks ago. I remember a particular thrill when I heard a station play the 1970 MCD a few years back and couldn’t believe it until I turned up the volume and heard Karen’s different tone and phrasing than what I usually hear on air.
 

MorningOpensQuietly

Well-Known Member
After hearing one of my Carpenters' favorites of all-time, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", I got to wondering why Richard did not include this jewel on the "Christmas Portrait" album. Has anything ever been said or posted by Richard why not, or any other intelligence from anyone on the board can share? Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love "CP", but it would've been even better if it had included this Carpenter classic - my thought!
 

Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
After hearing one of my Carpenters' favorites of all-time, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", I got to wondering why Richard did not include this jewel on the "Christmas Portrait" album. Has anything ever been said or posted by Richard why not, or any other intelligence from anyone on the board can share? Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love "CP", but it would've been even better if it had included this Carpenter classic - my thought!

This is what Richard has said in the past re why 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' was left off Christmas Portrait: 'This album also contains Karen's and my "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" , originally released in 1974. It was my mistake to not include this track in "Christmas Portrait", and we recieved much mail bemoaning this omission.'

Presumably the omission was deliberate rather than an oversight - I guess because of its more jazz-inspired feel, it was harder to include it in the running order stylistically, plus they were already running short on space in the running time to fit the tracklist on to a single album.

It is a shame though as it's one of their loveliest Christmas songs - and its exclusion from the album has undoubtedly contributed to it becoming an unjustly overlooked gem in their catalogue.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
Even on AOFC the Santa Claus Single kind of feels out of place. It’s such a different style to the rest of their Christmas songs. Even on CPSE, it wasn’t included, but when you look at the AOFC songs included on CPSE, they are in the same orchestral style and beat as the CP songs and the faster CP Santa Claus works better.

But that’s what singles were for—-testing new styles and doing one-off releases, and the 1974 Santa Claus was a one-off. If they had done a more jazz-oriented Christmas album, or standard 10-track with no overall orientation, but each track is its own style, then it would’ve fit better. But the symphony-oriented CP & AOFC did not work with it. Now then if Richard had stripped away all the instruments and recorded a new backing track that was symphony oriented, rather than jazz, it might’ve worked.
 

Rumbahbah

Well-Known Member
Even on AOFC the Santa Claus Single kind of feels out of place. It’s such a different style to the rest of their Christmas songs. Even on CPSE, it wasn’t included, but when you look at the AOFC songs included on CPSE, they are in the same orchestral style and beat as the CP songs and the faster CP Santa Claus works better.

But that’s what singles were for—-testing new styles and doing one-off releases, and the 1974 Santa Claus was a one-off. If they had done a more jazz-oriented Christmas album, or standard 10-track with no overall orientation, but each track is its own style, then it would’ve fit better. But the symphony-oriented CP & AOFC did not work with it. Now then if Richard had stripped away all the instruments and recorded a new backing track that was symphony oriented, rather than jazz, it might’ve worked.

The problem then though would be that stripping away the jazz style would have spoiled what made the single version of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' so special in the first place. The shortened/faster version of the song used on the special edition does work better in terms of fitting in with the surrounding tracks, but musically it's far inferior to the 1974 version.

Perhaps, as the letters that Richard received imply, some fans cared more about having the song available than about it upsetting the flow of the album. If it had been included at the start of say Side 2 of the original vinyl (which would have been a natural break in the running list in the old days of LPs and cassettes), it wouldn't have jarred so much.
 

Jarred

Your resident analyst right around the corner.
I agree that if it wasn’t placed at the start of Side 2 than Santa Claus just wouldn’t have fit on CP, and the arrangement shouldn’t ever be changed. It’s kind of like including the original cut of MCD in with the new songs, it would be jarring because of Karen’s vocal difference.

I do think however that Home for the Holidays absolutely should’ve been on the original CP, it’s a lovely take on a classic that everyone knows, and it fits in much better with the overall spirit and flow of CP rather than the choppy sequencing (how could it be otherwise?) of AOFC.
 

tomswift2002

Well-Known Member
The problem then though would be that stripping away the jazz style would have spoiled what made the single version of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' so special in the first place. The shortened/faster version of the song used on the special edition does work better in terms of fitting in with the surrounding tracks, but musically it's far inferior to the 1974 version.

Perhaps, as the letters that Richard received imply, some fans cared more about having the song available than about it upsetting the flow of the album. If it had been included at the start of say Side 2 of the original vinyl (which would have been a natural break in the running list in the old days of LPs and cassettes), it wouldn't have jarred so much.
I don’t think so. He could’ve made a version that worked with Karen’s vocals, but was more symphonic, and yet made it special.

Look at Baby It’s You and the CTY version versus the RPO version. You might as well say that the RPO version is a completely different track with the exception of the lead vocal, but by stripping the backing track away, he created an all-new arrangement that hardly sounds anywhere near the original version.
 

Harry

Charter A&M Corner Member
Staff member
Site Admin
as the letters that Richard received imply, some fans cared more about having the song available

^This. In the 1970's single 45s were more likely to be considered inferior, even disposable, when compared to full album versions on better vinyl. I know that I personally was disappointed to see "Santa Claus" listed but then not being the single. It seemed like such a terrible waste of an opportunity to put the song onto album vinyl.
 

JohnFB

I was born to belong to the lines of a song...
...

Look at Baby It’s You and the CTY version versus the RPO version. You might as well say that the RPO version is a completely different track with the exception of the lead vocal, but by stripping the backing track away, he created an all-new arrangement that hardly sounds anywhere near the original version.
I've been listening to the RPO album lately with headphones and think it's outstanding - brilliantly conceived with a whole new world of amazing sound swirling around Karen's incomparable vocals, which seem so much more present or clearer and resonant and "upfront" (don't really know how to describe them precisely) - just so much more real and in person - all of the tracks on this were great, but several really stood out for me, including "Baby, Its You", which I always liked a lot but which I now love and wonder even more now why this wasn't a gigantic hit for them - when I listened to this it sounded like I was sitting right in front of her as she belting it out - a marvelous piece of music, which to be perfect could possibly use a better ending (but this is minor)...

I love their "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - great arrangement by Richard and yet one more superb vocal by Karen - just for contrast and for your enjoyment here's an upbeat jazzy version of that song by one of my favorite groups, The Manhattan Transfer, from their Christmas album:

 

newvillefan

I Know My First Name Is Stephen
Even on AOFC the Santa Claus Single kind of feels out of place. It’s such a different style to the rest of their Christmas songs.

I’d disagree - I think it fits perfectly with What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?, which follows it. I think that was quite an inspired decision when it comes to the running order.
 

Geographer

Well-Known Member
I've been listening to the RPO album lately with headphones and think it's outstanding - brilliantly conceived with a whole new world of amazing sound swirling around Karen's incomparable vocals, which seem so much more present or clearer and resonant and "upfront" (don't really know how to describe them precisely) - just so much more real and in person - all of the tracks on this were great, but several really stood out for me, including "Baby, Its You", which I always liked a lot but which I now love and wonder even more now why this wasn't a gigantic hit for them - when I listened to this it sounded like I was sitting right in front of her as she belting it out - a marvelous piece of music, which to be perfect could possibly use a better ending (but this is minor)...

I love their "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - great arrangement by Richard and yet one more superb vocal by Karen - just for contrast and for your enjoyment here's an upbeat jazzy version of that song by one of my favorite groups, The Manhattan Transfer, from their Christmas album:


I have this Christmas album and it's great! And by coincidence, my Itunes Christmas playlist did, indeed, play both the MH and Carpenters SCICTT back to back yesterday and I did contemplate both styles.
 
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