Say what you will about the Grammy Award-winning Carpenters’ choice of material (both cover and original), but there’s no disputing that Karen Carpenter had one of the most extraordinary voices in late 20th-century music. So clear and pure. It was stunning and inimitable. Plus, she was a great drummer! It’s difficult to believe that Karen (whose struggle with anorexia was an open secret and well-documented following her death) has been gone for 25 years. In the interim, technology has evolved to the point that we can have an album such as Carpenters with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (A&M). Not a new concept (see 2015’s very posthumous If I Can Dream, which pairs Elvis Presley recordings with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), but one that is a surprisingly good fit for the Carpenters. Karen’s brother and musical partner, Richard, was already incorporating orchestrations in some of the duo’s recordings, so there’s nothing jarring about hearing these 17 songs with lush orchestrations. Perhaps the most exciting outcome of this project is the possibility of a whole new generation experiencing songs such as “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “I Need to Be in Love,” “Hurting Each Other,” “For All We Know,” “Superstar,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Goodbye to Love,” and the holiday classic “Merry Christmas, Darling” for the first time.
Sex, Dope & Cheap Thrills (Columbia/Legacy) is a double-disc compilation of live tracks and alternative cuts commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the groundbreaking 1968 Big Brother & The Holding Company album Cheap Thrills. (The full original title was considered “too risqué” by the label at the time of its original release.) At the complete opposite end of the vocal spectrum from Karen Carpenter, this new release is a reminder of the genius of the late Janis Joplin. Her rough, ragged, and lived-in vocals were a good match for the blues rock of the band—just listen to her reading of the Gershwins’ “Summertime” as proof. The first disc’s 30 sºongs, presented in various takes, closely follows the original running order on the expanded 1999 reissue of Cheap Thrills, with additions such as “Harry (Take 10),” “It’s a Deal (Take 1),” “Easy Once You Know How (Take 1),” “How Many Times Blues Jam,” and “Farewell Song (Take 7).” The second disc features 16 more takes, and songs that didn’t make the cut on the album, such as “Misery’n.”
Maggie Roche, who died in 2017, was a singer/songwriter who was every bit as distinctive an artist and deserving of praise as Karen Carpenter and Janis Joplin. Whether performing as half of a duo with sister Terre or as a third of the trio The Roches (with sisters Terre and Suzzy), Maggie Roche’s artistic talents would always shine through. The double disc set Where Do I Come From: Selected Songs (Storysound), lovingly assembled by Suzzy Roche, is comprised of 32 songs, including four unreleased recordings. Maggie’s work is represented by five songs from the 1975 Maggie and Terre album Seductive Reasoning (such as “Jill of All Trades,” “Underneath the Moon,” and the incredible “West Virginia”), as well as selections from eight of The Roches’ albums. The only minor complaint is that there are no songs from The Roches’ 1985 disc Another World. Other than that, Where Do I Come From is actually an out-of-this-world tribute to an incredible woman.
This article appears in the February 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.