Carpenters - Michelle Berting BrettCARPENTERS

Michelle Berting Brett Honors Their Legacy

“Everybody knows all the songs,” Michelle Berting Brett said the other night at B.B. King’s an hour before taking the stage in her We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered concert show “celebrating the music of one of the most successful recording acts of all time,” as her promo so accurately puts it.

Sure enough, she had everyone singing along to “(They Long to Be) Close to You,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Top of the World,” “Superstar,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “Goodbye to Love,” “Sing,” “Solitaire,” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You,” “Sweet, Sweet Smile,” “I Need to Be in Love,” “For All We Know” and their biggest-selling worldwide hit “Yesterday Once More.”

Carpenters-2 - Michelle Berting BrettCo-written by Richard Carpenter, “Yesterday Once More” evokes the classic rock ’n’ roll, R&B and sophisticated pop—“The Beatles, Beach Boys and Burt Bacharach,” as Brett noted—that so heavily influenced him. These were present in her faithful take on the Carps’ great covers “Ticket To Ride” and the “Bacharach/David Medley” from the 1971 Carpenters album (“Knowing When to Leave,” “Make It Easy on Yourself,” “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me,” “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,” “Walk on By” and “Do You Know the Way to San Jose”).

To her credit, Brett never tried to conjure the ghost of Karen Carpenter.

“A lot of tribute shows are impersonation,” she had said before the show. “That always disconnected me from the music: You can start to think, ‘It’s not really like her’—or whoever the artist is that the show is a tribute to. It becomes a tricky thing, which is why I do mine in the third person.”

In other words, Brett doesn’t put on a Karen Carpenter act; rather, she honors the “warmth, vulnerability, and purity” of Carpenter’s voice, while letting her seasoned seven-piece Nashville band—including four former members of Donna Summer’s band—recreate Richard’s genius “multi-layer arrangements and waterfall harmonies.”

“There are a few Carpenters tributes out there, but they’re made up of part-time musicians or doing it on the side,” noted Brett, who grew up on the music of The Carpenters on a farm in Saskatchewan. She later moved to Toronto and performed in musical theater and cabaret before meeting her husband and settling in Connecticut.

Carpenters-1“Friends would say, ‘Michelle, you sound like Karen Carpenter’—which was the ultimate compliment. I don’t really—no one does. But there’s a similar color in my voice sometimes.”

By creating We’ve Only Just Begun: Carpenters Remembered, Brett has succeeded both in employing her Karen Carpenter vocal color and in extending her love of the “American Songbook,” for really, that’s what the Carpenters catalog is, what with writers like Bacharach-David, Paul Williams, Leon Russell, John Bettis, Neil Sedaka—and Richard Carpenter himself—having a hand in composing songs that have become American pop standards, as Brett and her audience proves.

Jim Bessman


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