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Mary Foltz
Bethlehem, PA
Southsider music critic
Feb 2019

5 out of 5 stars

A Tribute to the Carpenters: Valentine’s Day at SteelStacks

For Valentine’s Day, Musikfest Café presented Top of the World: A Carpenters Tribute featuring Debbie Taylor. Despite the chill in the air and the snow on the ground, music lovers poured into café seating to experience the best-selling music of the Carpenters over three decades after Karen Carpenter’s early death. It is not entirely accurate to call Taylor, lead guitarist Paul Stewart, and their team a “cover band” for they are more akin to time travelers. If audience members shut their eyes, it felt like we were transported back to the heart of the 70s when Richard Carpenter’s arrangements and Karen Carpenter’s voice were fresh revelations. For older couples in the room celebrating decades of life together, the nostalgia-filled melodies—sung to perfection and performed with gusto by a top-notch band—made this Valentine’s Day a three hour return to fledgling romance. For younger—although not young! —people born in the 70s, we were transported through music to our childhoods.

As a member of the latter group, A Carpenters Tribute brought me back to the mid-80s when I discovered my father’s vinyl records. Although I loved Carol King’s Tapestry and Dionne Warwick’s The Windows of the World, my absolute favorite album in his collection was Song for You. While I was too young perhaps to understand the optimism of songs like “Top of the World” in which a couple sets off to start a life together or the soulful longing for a lover to give it one more try in “Song for You,” I responded directly to the depth and purity of Karen Carpenter’s voice. Without frills or runs, her voice came through with strength and depth, purely holding a note in a way that enraptured ten-year-old me. I tried and tried to imitate her for the next decade, returning again and again to this album with a little more understanding of the meaning of the lyrics as I moved into and out of adolescence. Encountering this music in 2019 with an outstanding live performance, I recalled how expertly the Carpenters delivered on the emotional power of love lost, found, rediscovered, or mourned.

So, too, did other audience members as we sang along to the major hits of the Carpenters, following Debbie Taylor’s spot-on vocals. The tribute band opened with “Top of the World” from the aforementioned 1973 album Song for You. For those of us that had not visited YouTube to listen to Taylor’s rendition prior to the performance, we experienced the surprise of hearing Karen’s vocal twin. With every song, Taylor channeled the rich caramel contralto of Karen; her voice matches the deceased vocalist so closely that one could believe Karen to have spirited into the room. Beyond the tonal similarities, Taylor captured the urgency of desire for reconciliation in songs like “Superstar (Don’t You Remember You Told Me You Loved Me, Baby)” and the happy gratitude for a devoted partner in “Close to You” and “I Won’t Last a Day Without You.” The audience responded in kind, belting out our own stylistically lesser but no less passionate renderings of songs that like old friends continue to live on in our minds.

Taylor, Stewart, and their team framed most songs with historical information about the band and commentary on their connection to The Carpenters’ music. Taylor discussed how the songs are deceptively simple, but actually revealed the true genius of Richard Carpenter’s arrangements once the musicians began to recreate beloved tunes. She stated that Richard moved past the selection of typical musical instruments for pop arrangements to include cello, harp, and violin. In this way, he “laid down lush musical landscape for Karen’s voice,” she said. With reference to Karen, Taylor believes that her voice is “second to none.” She told the audience that Karen’s voice is like “velvet, satin, or butter. It’s Prozac for the ears.”

While the tribute band played many of the songs that you might expect to hear from “We’ve Only Just Begun” to “Rainy Days and Mondays,” they also offered some lesser known treasures. In the first set, Taylor sang a song released in 1976 from A Kind of Hush titled “I Need to Be in Love,” which she let us know was Karen’s favorite song to sing. They also performed “The Rainbow Connection” made famous by another singer of sorts from The Muppet Movie.

One of the more moving moments in the night occurred toward the end of the second set. As many of the band members currently live in Florida, they chose to dedicate “Bless the Beasts and the Children” to the students and families of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

As a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, the tribute to the Carpenters was a wonderful event. With the steel stacks lit in festive purple and red as backdrop for the band, the view and the dimmed lighting of the café ensured that the ambience complemented the tone of the evening. With Taylor leading the way and crooning about life and love in stages, she sang each of us a song or two in which we could “remember when we were together” with a “true love.” Together, we joined Taylor in singing songs to whoever it might be in our lives that haunts us, inspires us, or moves us as we walked through the idealism of new romance and the pain of hopes dashed via the music of the Carpenters revived by Taylor, Stewart, and the band. It was an evening to remember beloved songs, to indulge in nostalgia and romance, and to enjoy the company of other citizens of Bethlehem in celebrating love in its many forms.


Howard Cohen
Miami Herald music critic
Dec 2017

5 out of 5 stars

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 2018

5 out of 5 stars

Singer Debbie Taylor and her “Top Of The World” tribute band built on their second sold out concert in two consecutive years at Aventura Center on November 17th by offering the audience new Carpenters songs in addition to Taylor’s personal perspective on the origins of the Carpenters songs and their commercial appeal.

Possessed with a contralto range and low timbre similar to Karen Carpenter, Taylor wisely dispensed with wigs,costumes and gimmicks that other Carpenters tribute acts rely on and focused on creating a show that focused on performing the Carpenters songbook with their signature sound of layered harmonies combined with musicians who showcased their creativity on the drums, guitar, saxophone, trumpet, among other instruments.

Taylor and her eight member “Top Of The World” band played the Carpenters hit songs, such as “A Song For You”, “Superstar”, “Top Of The World” and “Yesterday Once More” among more than twenty other songs with arrangements that provoked nostalgia and fervent applause in the two act, two hour show.

The band members also added their perspectives in reviving the Carpenters signature sound. Ross Goldman was memorable on saxophone in “A Song For You” and “This Masquerade”. Back up vocalist Diana Hernandez showcased her trumpet in “Close To You” and musical director Paul Stewart recreated the fuzz guitar sound of Carpenters guitarist Tony Peluso in “Goodbye To Love”.

A highlight of act one had Taylor team with musical director/guitarist Paul Stewart in a contemporary interpretation of “I Need To Be In Love” stripped of a multi-layered sound that made Taylor’s interpretation more soulful and heartfelt to the lyrics, especially because Karen Carpenter had an ill-fated marriage that would lead to her death within two years of recording “I Need To Be In Love”.

Taylor ushered in act two with “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “For All We Know”. The second act was highlighted in the second act with her personal interpretation of “Bless The Beasts & The Children”. Offstage, Taylor engages in weekly pet therapy sessions with young children who are seriously ill with her dog Cash and the audience saw pictures of the many children she works with during the performance of the song.

The Aventura Center audience was also treated to two additional Carpenters songs “Merry Christmas Darling” and “Only Yesterday” that were not in the 2017 show..

Taylor herself is charismatic in sharing the Carpenters back stories, sounds most like Karen Carpenter in “Close To You” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” and has a glamorous stage presence that impressed both the audience and her agent who has booked Taylor and “Top Of The World” for shows in 2019 on tour in the United States.

For those who missed Taylor and “Top Of The World” perform their tribute to The Carpenters, they will be performing again on November 23 and 24 at the Wick Theatre in Boca Raton.


Larry Berfond
Boca Black Box Center For The Arts
Sept 2017

5 out of 5 stars

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

5 out of 5 stars

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

5 out of 5 stars

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


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5 out of 5 stars
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.


5 out of 5 stars
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.


5 out of 5 stars
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!


5 out of 5 stars
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.


5 out of 5 stars
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!


5 out of 5 stars
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!


5 out of 5 stars
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


5 out of 5 stars
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.


5 out of 5 stars
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

5 out of 5 stars

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

5 out of 5 stars

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

5 out of 5 stars

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

5 out of 5 stars

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