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Howard Cohen
Miami Herald music critic
Dec 2017

Tribute shows to yesteryear acts — some long gone like the Carpenters and Elvis Presley, some still active such as Fleetwood Mac and Eagles — abound. Some are fun, as they tap into communal nostalgia. Most make you long for the originals.

Debbie Taylor’s Top of the World — A Carpenters Tribute, a Valentine to the ’70s easy listening brother and sister duo that is now making the rounds in South Florida, is that rarity: a tribute show that lets audiences feel what a prime-era Carpenters concert might have sounded like in the mid-70s, when late singer Karen Carpenter was still at her vocal peak. But this one transcends the source material.

Sunday night at Coral Gables’ Open Stage Club, Taylor, and her eight talented musicians, some of the finest on the South Florida circuit, were aided by the shrewd use of Richard Carpenter’s original arrangements — exquisite, detailed sound sculptures that layered multi-tracked pop vocals into sophisticated, jazzy rhythm tracks. Close your eyes at this show and you will feel the ache in Goodbye to Love, the joy in the infectious Top of the World and the feel-good familiarity of the Carpenters’ nostalgic anthem, Yesterday Once More. Every sha-la-la-la is in its place.

But Taylor, and her band, aren’t afraid to depart from Richard Carpenter’s studious arrangements. Taylor and her longtime collaborator, guitarist Paul Stewart, who helped conceive this act with her, offer an “unplugged” performance of one of the most haunting numbers in the Carpenters’ canon: I Need to Be in Love.

The song was reportedly his sister’s favorite of any the pair had recorded, Richard Carpenter has said. Taylor reiterated that point as she delivered anecdotes and the history of the two dozen or so songs her group performed.
The melancholic lyric supposedly moved Karen Carpenter to tears when she was first presented with the song by its composers, Richard Carpenter and John Bettis. The words cut too close and captured the loneliness she felt as a famous woman with millions of fans on the road but with no one to come home to “in this quite imperfect world.”

In retrospect, that she would be dead less than seven years after the single inched to No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100, with a short-lived and failed marriage behind her, added poignancy.

By stripping I Need to Be in Love of its sweet, orchestrated instrumentation, Taylor revealed fresher, deeper truths in Bettis’ lyric. Dramatically bathed in blue light, center stage, Taylor’s rendition was stunning.

Conversely, for the night’s final number, a sing-a-long to, what else?, Sing, the Carpenters’ 1973 cover of a Sesame Street tune, previously recorded in concert by Barbra Streisand for her 1972 Live at the Forum album, the look of joy on Taylor’s face said it all.

Also, we’re betting that Richard Carpenter, who has made no secret of his regret for covering Herman’s Hermit’s ’60s hit There’s a Kind of Hush in 1976 because of some dated keyboard elements cribbed from the Captain & Tennille playbook of the Bicentennial year, would likely have applauded the Top of the World band’s more organic approach, which replaced they gimmicky synths with guitar accents.

Other highlights included a perky run-through of the old Motown chestnut Please Mr. Postman that the Carpenters turned into their last No. 1 single in February 1975. For that one, the band’s backing singers, Diana Hernandez, who also plays trumpet and percussion, and Alvaro Rosario, don postal bags for comic effect. The two become Santa’s elves for the seasonal Merry Christmas, Darling, which was originally recorded by the California pop act in 1970 and which featured one of Karen Carpenters’ most exquisite vocals. (Her 1978 re-recording for the evergreen Christmas Portrait album was lovely but not quite as warm a match.)

Taylor delivered a version of the Yule tune that approached the original, quite an achievement when you note the late Karen Carpenter had a once in a lifetime voice. Taylor apparently proves once in a lifetimes sometimes reprise.

But the night’s musical standout came after Taylor introduced Leon Russell’s This Masquerade by noting George Benson had the hit version (in 1976.)

Some might cry foul, but I was always more taken by the Carpenters’ version, the B-side of the frothy Please Mr. Postman, and taken from the duo’s 1973 Now & Then LP. The original’s musicianship and Richard Carpenter’s detailed production put the Carpenters close to the jazz realm. Along with Karen’s rich vocal, This Masquerade was among the duo’s definitive yet most overlooked recordings.

The performance was also Sunday night’s best showcase of this tribute band’s musical talents, particularly Felix Gomez’s piano playing and drummer Jack Ciano’s drumming.

Finally, We’ve Only Just Begun, which began its life as a Crocker Bank TV commercial before becoming the Carpenters’ signature tune — as the show noted with the screening of the original commercial — is still paying dividends thanks to Top of the World’s attention to detail and musical chops.

Taylor’s Top of the World is just that — one of the best tribute shows I’ve seen in many, many years.


Marvin Glassman
Cultural Arts Writer, Jewish Journal
Nov 2017

Debbie Taylor and her band craft a theatrical show, not only showcasing the music of The Carpenters, but giving insight into the origins of the songs and quality of the music. A highlight of the show that was especially impressive is Taylor performing a Carpenters song “I Need To Be In Love” with an arrangement of Taylor singing plus Paul Stewart on guitar that not only augment Taylor’s voice as Karen Carpenter, but deepens the meaning of the sad lyric with Stewart’s lush guitar arrangement.

Debbie Taylor not only sounds like Karen Carpenter in classics such as “Close To You” and “We’ve Only Just Begun”, but the augmentation of The Carpenters sound by band members with the arrangements for the saxophone, trumpet and other instruments would make one believe that Richard Carpenter produced the show. The band succeeded in making the memories of The Carpenters music come alive again.


Larry Berfond
Boca Black Box Center For The Arts
Sept 2017


We at Boca Black Box wanted to tell you how excited we were to present your wonderful tribute, Top of the World: A Carpenters Tribute on our stage. We host a minimum of twenty tribute acts here along with Grammy winners, full concert orchestras and top name Vegas comedians like Andrew Dice Clay yearly, and your show was every bit as impressive from the moment you took our stage.

The thoughtful process of which you presented The Carpenters works was in fact a tribute not only in name, but with your explanation of both the times that surrounded the compositions and the arranging by Richard and the beautiful Multi textured voice of Karen. Both ends of the Carpenters spectrum were well represented with your show.

The music of the Carpenters by yourselves with your wonderful renditions were perfectly true to the recordings by your more than capable musicianship, and as I said before the voice of Karen by Debbie were ever mindful of Karen’s sound from the first note, also being backed up so beautifully by your two backup singers. Now, when your female singer took out her trumpet and joined the wonderful sax/keyboardist, we were floored. You don’t often see a background singer not just play some percussion but actually add those extra licks that were required. Lastly the orchestrations were also laid out so well by your guitarist, partner who must have been dreaming of these moments as each and every song seemed to flow from his guitar and your wonderful bass player.

We hope that you save a spot on your busy touring schedule to come back and visit us real soon. You have made many new fans right here in Boca!


Boca Black Box Center For The Arts
Sept 2017


The warmth and tone of Debbie’s vocals are so reminiscent of Karen Carpenter, at times you’ll think you’re listening to Karen herself!


Aventura Arts & Cultural Center
Oct 2017


It’s Yesterday Once More when Debbie Taylor and her band bring the unforgettable, exquisite music of The Carpenters to the stage.



A MUST SEE SHOW! NOTHING ELSE COMPARES!
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/03/2017 by Goldendaddy

I saw the Carpenters back in 1974. I saw them again at the Aventura Cultural Arts Center featuring the incredible talent of Debbie Taylor and her band. I have seen other Carpenters Tribute Shows and NOTHING compares to this Top Of the World Band. There were tears of joy streaming from many faces in the crowd. Roaring applause after every song. Fantastic power point brought the songs and the back stories to life. Debbie’s connection with the crowd brings the heart and soul of the music to each person in the theater.
This is only the beginning of this groups journey back in time as the unmatched voice of Karen Carpenter is eerily brought back to us by Debbie Taylor after Karen was sadly silenced 35 years ago. DO NOT MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THEM IN PERSON.



Great show!

Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/02/2017 by Lmaxksp

Show was amazing. Debbie Taylor sounded just like Karen Carpenter.



Top Of the World-A Carpenters Tribute Fantastic

Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/02/2017 by Musictheaterlove

Wonderful tribute to the Carpenters. Highly recommend!



Absolutely fabulous.
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by Anonymous 

Debbie Taylor’s voice is like velvet. She and her band provided the audience with a wonderful evening of music with The Carpenters orchestrations.



Absolutely Amazing!
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by Dictionary500

This was such an incredible night! If I closed my eyes, I could really say that the Carpenters were in the house! Debbie and her band nailed it! Brought back wonderful memories and learned a few things about the Carpenters and their songs. Hats off to you guys! Congratulations!



Amazing!!

Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by JAGAVENTURA 

Sorry, but Debbie sang Karen’s songs better than Karen….incredible!



Spectacular SHOW- Unforgettable
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by Setterlove

WOW .. Debbie Taylor and her magnificent and talented band were INCREDIBLE! What a night. My husband and I were truly surprised to hear the soft velvet voice of Karen Carpenter come to life. This band played 2 hours worth of wonderful memorable hits one right after the other. The best part of the show was all the background information about each and every song. Ms Taylor was obviously a huge Carpenter fan and was brilliantly engaging with the crowd the entire evening. We left feeling as though we got to see “The Carpenters”.. what a special evening. Thank YOU



Extraordinary Show & Musicianship
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by HollywoodSofia

Wonderful musicianship and talent on the stage for this Carpenters review with expert performances. Congratulations to Debbie Taylor, lead singer. I enjoyed the back stories about the music and hope they take this show on the road to share it with the rest of the country.



Aventura Arts & Cultural Center – Aventura, FL – Sun, Oct 29, 2017
Posted 11/01/2017 by Debbi3e

This show was absolutely amazing. If I closed my eyes, I would swear it was Karen Carpenter singing.


 

J. Most
Oct 2017

I’m On Top Of The World after seeing an amazing tribute to The Carpenters starring the beautiful and so talented Debbie Taylor and Company! This show was two hours of professionally produced entertainment that was a sellout performance!! If I closed my eyes I would have thought I was listening to my radio in the 70’s and it’s Karen Carpenter! Loved every minute.


D. Reinmund
Oct 2017

All we can say is WOW what a wonderful evening!! Your show rivals anything that could be seen in any concert venue in the country!


Beth S.
Sept 2017

I couldn’t sleep last night thinking of how extraordinary the show was! Debbie was captivating, vocally flawless, and the band was outstanding! I wish I was going to be in town for the next one I would definitely come again!!


Shari N.
Sept 2017

Amazing show and amazing musicians. Couldn’t have asked for more from a Carpenters Tribute Band!