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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Carpenters: An Old-Fashioned Christmas


1) It Came Upon A Midnight Clear; 2) Overture / Happy Holiday; 3) An Old-Fashioned Christmas; 4) O Holy Night; 5) Home For The Holidays; 6) Here Comes Santa Claus; 7) Little Altar Boy; 8) Do You Hear What I Hear; 9) My Favorite Things; 10) He Came Here For Me; 11) Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town; 12) What Are You Doing New Years'; 13) Selections From The Nutcracker; 14) I Heard The Bells On Christmas.

There is not much to be said about this project, except that, as a project, it kind of sucks: taking several leftover tracks from their 1978 Christmas sessions, Richard surrounded them with new material — largely instrumental reworkings and potpourris of even more Christmas standards — and made the fans a somewhat limp companion to Christmas Portrait. (Actually, I am not sure exactly which tracks are completely new and which ones came from the old stock: Peter Knight is credited for most of the orchestral arrangements, and while he did work with the siblings in 1977-78, I have no idea whether Richard recalled him specially for this project).

In any case, the orchestrated instrumentals are predictably posh, corny, and Disneyfied, a parti­cularly low point being a medley from the various sections of The Nutcracker — somebody tell Tchaikov­sky the news — where it is not even clear how this could claim to be creative. As for Karen's numbers, the only one that might make you sit up is a cover of Vic Dana's 1961 hit ʽLittle Altar Boyʼ: suddenly breaking up the sappy joyfulness of the proceedings, it injects a strain of dark broodiness and torment, which, as we all know, is always perfectly adapted to Karen's style. There is even a bit of a shivery feel as she ends each verse on a doom-struck low note: "lift up your voice and help a sinner be strong" feels acutely personal.

Other than that, my only opinion is that this is one of the most expendable items in the Carpen­ters' catalog — now that it exists, it cannot be wiped out all that easily, but the best solution would be simply to cleanse both records, purging them from the corny instrumentals, and put together all (or most) of Karen's numbers. However, you will have to do that by yourself: the 1996 twin CD edition, Christmas Collection, diligently combines both albums in their entirety, preserving the option of the listener experiencing hallucinogenic visions of Karen Carpenter as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Richard as The Mouse King. Thumbs down.

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