Richard Carpenter’s Piano Songbook by Richard Carpenter – Album Review
By Ellie Victor
Richard Carpenter, songwriter and arranger for The Carpenters’ mega-selling 70s hit factory recordings, once said that when he was young he “never wanted to practice” the piano. So it might then be seen as somewhat surprising that these gentle but sweetly arranged piano-only renditions of some of The Carpenters’ biggest and best moments has made it out at all.
But here we are, four or five decades on from their first airings, with Richard once more tinkling the ivories on new arrangements of classics like ‘Rainy Days and Mondays’, ‘Close to You’ and the always barnstorming ‘Top of the World’.
“Rich and sonorous”
Absent, naturally, is his sister’s crystalline contralto – an instrument so sublime it could find pathos even in her brother’s occasional mis-steps into easy listening blandness. And it’s that eternal Carpenters magic – the sorrow and the yearning inside something so face value joyful – that Richard searches for here, not without success.
A medley of ‘Sing / Goodbye to Love / Eve / Rainy Days and Mondays’ opens the album in style. Rich and sonorous, the songs link and blend beautifully. ‘Yesterday Once More’ (co-written with John Bettis) is splendid, tugging the heartstrings and showcasing Carpenter’s fine keyboard work (he must have put in the practice after all).
The highlight though is ‘The Rainbow Connection’ – a perhaps unfamiliar bluegrass-pop classic in its late 70s heyday, here its jaunty rhythms add dynamism to an album that occasionally calls out for more variety.
Absentees frustrate, as is always the case with career-spanning selections like these. But maybe ‘Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft’ and The Carpenters’ heartbreaking high water mark ‘Only Yesterday’ are being saved for the follow up. Let’s hope so.
At his 70s peak as an arranger, sometimes songwriter and – yes – pianist, Richard Carpenter’s songs scaled the dizzy pop heights climbed elsewhere only by Abba. It’s his prerogative to revisit them as and when he sees fit. Longtime fans will surely delight in this creative, often ruminative, but occasionally upbeat set of new interpretations.