October 31, 2010

A Doombuggyless Haunted Mansion

Note: Tomorrow, you'll find a trip report about Disneyland- including its "Dirty Little Secret". Come back then!

Let's be honest- There are two legendary attractions in the Disney world of theme parks. One is Pirates of the Caribbean. With or without Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, it is undeniably one of Walt Disney Imagineering's finest efforts. The other is The Haunted Mansion, also known as Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. On this, most all die-hard Disney fans agree. These are consumate examples of engineering as art, where story, music, and execution come together perfectly.

Most of us know that the mansion was initially intended as a walk through attraction, with Walt Disney himself pushing for this to happen. The concept art (above) by Bruce Bushman gives a nice little indicator of the desired effect. With no doombuggy in sight, a solitary stroll through the place would have added to the creepiness factor.

Speaking of doombuggies, you just have to go to Doombuggies.com as it is the ultmate Haunted Mansion website. In fact, the "History" pages are full of art I have never seen. Including the one shown here today.

(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 30, 2010

Special Weekend Update

Hi Everyone! While you are taking the time to answer the poll (to your left), just wanted to keep you updated on some special posts this weekend. Tomorrow, you'll find a little something on our favorite Haunted Mansion. On Monday, there will be a trip report about my latest visit to Disneyland and some dirty little secrets I found while touring the park. Just a few posts prior to this one, you'll find my detailed trip report on the progress at California Adventure. Have a great weekend- and be safe out there!
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

Just Lovely

Happy Birthday to my wonderful wife! Above is a photo of her and my daughter while boarding a skyway car at some amusement park. This favorite shot says much about her. I love her sense of fun and adventure, her heart for our family and people in general, and the joy of the Lord Jesus that radiates from her. She's a true Renaissance woman with a vital and engaging career all her own. I am blessed man to be her husband. Happy Birthday, and may we have many more together!

October 28, 2010

California Adventure: Disney's Complete About-Face

If Walt Disney World guests cover the gamut of shapes and sizes, it seems the guests of Disneyland and California Adventure comprise an entirely different lot. During my visit last week, I was surrounded by young blonde beauties with silicone enhancements in all the right areas and blindingly white teeth, and young men with jet blackened hair or none at all, bronzed faces, bulging biceps and perfectly placed tattoos. It was Southern California's Ken and Barbie show for the new century! But it was also a good complement and imagery to describe the transformation of Anaheim's second Disney theme park.

California Adventure has truly become Disney's Complete About-face. Eschewing the "hip and edgy" focus of 2001, this Disney ugly duckling is changing rapidly. The new-park-in-the-making is heading back to the future with immersive theming, Disney charm, and old school, story-rich attractions. The wait is half over as the surgeons complete their work.

Having been to the Disneyland Resort last year about the same time- and the differences in this park (and my trip report and impressions) couldn't be more different than if I was comparing the park of 2001 to the park of today. I had one day to cover both parks this time. Thankfully, it was an overcast day, so my one day park hopper- along with some advance planning- brought me 23 attractions between two parks, leisurely strolls for exploration, and a "blue" ticket for World of Color. For this post, I'll focus on California Adventure alone.

Having seen all the latest photo updates, I thought I'd had a good feel for the current state of things. I was wrong. Nothing beats first person visuals. Approaching the gates, it was rather strange to see the right mural dismantled, and later, the sun sculpture following suit. With half of Paradise Pier behind walls and the Bountiful Valley Farm area a distant memory, the whole of the park felt under the knife of surgery. Much like Heidi Montag before and after- and during.

The line for a World of Color ticket was the longest line I waited in all day for either park- about 15 minutes- and I was at the gates just minutes after opening. Going into Condor Flats, I was reminded how much I liked this area of the park and just how much I disliked the fact that Fly 'N' Buy had become another generic Disney merchandise location versus the unique offering it once was. Not too sure about how Fastpass for the show worked, so I skipped getting one for Soarin' Over California, the one attraction at California Adventure that I never miss. No worries, my wait later on was one single ride cycle. In fact, I never bothered with another Fastpass all day.

The not-too-golden ticket in hand, Grizzly River Run just seemed like a bad idea at the time, so I wandered through bathroom row (San Francisco), turned into Paradise Pier and headed for Silly Symphony Swings. Beautiful building, well positioned, and a very enjoyable ride over Paradise Bay. Very enjoyable solo ride. No other person in sight. What a difference being out in the open air made instead of being inside a peeling Orange Stinger! Touring the lower level of the building after the ride, I was impressed with the thought and detail put into this simple makeover. And I loved Mickey on top. Well done.

Rounding the bend and passing the now defunct Maliboomer was a joy. Continued straight on to California Screamin', passing Toy Story Midway Mania- which posted a forty minute wait already. No single rider line, so it wasn't worth the wait. Not a must see in my opinion.

I had the pleasure of riding the coaster next to someone who hadn't ridden before, her husband betting she wouldn't do it. Laughing through the entire ride once we were past the launch, she kept saying how smooth this was. California Screamin' is a great coaster- and it will be even better with a fresh coast of paint and perhaps even a new queue. The coaster looks horrible- dirty and tired- but the ride is as great as always. The cheap queue and set up do this attraction an injustice.

Glanced at the renamed Paradise Pier Ice Cream Company. Nice changes, nothing more. But it was a reminder to me of how much time we Disney park lovers have invested in watching California Adventure's transformation live and on line. We / I have made so much out of even the littlest changes. Before anyone yells "Fault", I think it is a compliment to Disney Imagineering that we are so passionate about their work. It's brand loyalty the suits love when we spend cash and heap praise; one they disdain (and maybe even mock) when we rightfully attack a poor product or project. The truth is, you cannot have one without the other.

By this point in the morning, I was ready for a brief stop at the Winery tables before entering the Blue Sky Cellar. Sitting there, it hit me how much this park has in common with Florida's Animal Kingdom in one important aspect. In both parks, a sunny day makes all the difference in the world.

With so many of the attractions outdoors, California Adventure designers rely on beautiful weather by the hand of God to complete the perfect lens through which to view the park. When it is sunny and bright, the lush greens of the Golden State's pines provide the perfect backdrop for the sparkling waters around it. The geysers' spray dances in the sun, making getting drenched much more fun. Attractions alongside Paradise Bay have a bit more allure. Even the rather pedestrian streets of the Hollywood Pictures Backlot seem welcoming. On a cloudy and overcast day, the lines are short, but the trade off is the park feels drab and its shortcomings are more obvious.

Surveying the work for Cars Land and the incredible looking Radiator Springs Racers, I had one thought in mind: I cannot wait for this to open! Route 66 belongs here, and the towering bluffs will finally create a berm from the outside world, allowing more magic to shine through. Greatly detailed buildings and beautiful neon at night- it's a bit of Disney's Hollywood Studios best atmosphere given a west coast twist. And what can I say that hasn't been said about the land's premier attraction? Cars is not my favorite Pixar movie by a long shot, but the film segment where the characters race through the land is made for an attraction. Test Track rocks, so it is a great match of story and technology. I'll ride Racers every visit just like I do Soarin'. More Disney is a good thing here. Let's just hope the show elements remain working, unlike the Yeti at Animal Kingdom's Expedition Everest!

It was time for Tower of Terror- and a look at the construction surrounding the coming Red Car Trolleys. The ability to connect through Flik's Fun Fair is an improvement in traffic flow. The area is one of the best designed and most charming in the park, and too many adult visitors have missed it in the past.

Ever ridden the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror with only three other people? I did for the first time. Going into the library and then the empty boiler room is an entirely different experience. I slowly explored a few references to the television show. Nice not to be rushed by the folks behind me, but kind of creepy, too. It would be even creepier with a darkened lobby at the beginning to set the tone. However, this was the one time the darkened skies added to the atmosphere. In fact, for a brief moment I wondered if the lightning was real.

Before returning to Disneyland, I wandered into the Blue Sky Cellar, noticed much hadn't changed since my last visit, and decided to return to this park an hour or two before lining up for World of Color.

Flash forward several hours. I stopped in Baker's Field Bakery for a treat and a cup of coffee. Dusk was approaching in about two hours, and I wanted to pause and sit by the train and take in the details found in this soon to be demolished area. The California Zephyr is one of the few original pieces of California Adventure that I will miss. It's elegant with great visual impact and true to theme. Sun Icon- adios. Golden Gate Bridge- goodbye. Maliboomer- see you later. Sun Plaza- meet Buena Vista Street! No loss to any of the old ugly pieces of the past. But to lose this train, a great piece of real history and simple charm- not a good idea. Not at all. Attention Imagineers: If you find a home in this park for the train, you'll win many fans. It fits the new theme beautifully. Walt was a railroad buff after all.

Finishing my coffee, a bit of hang gliding was next on my agenda. Front row- first time since my first visit in 2001. Nice, really nice. Being a Californian in Colorado, Soarin' always brings a tear to my eyes.

Since the skies had warmed up, I jumped in a nonexistent line for Grizzly River Run. What a blast to ride as the sun is disappearing into the horizon. The details on the ride seem to be increasing, and I hear there are more to come. (Were there always "miners" sound effects in the caves?) For water rides as these, the other riders make or break the journey, and in this case, a nice crew from Northern California were the perfect rafters to share a journey with.

Almost time to queue for World of Color, but I had time for a trip to Monstropolis. Again, no line. The quirky Superstar Limo was laughable in not a good way. I was worried Disney would continue to "cheap out" as they transformed the ride to Monsters Inc, but they did not go the route I expected. Monsters is among my favorite "C" ticket dark rides in any Disney park. Mike, Sully, and Boo are great characters, the effects terrific, and the storyline great fun.

Time for the nighttime spectacular. The thirty five minute wait passed rather quickly due to the color patterns on the Fun Wheel. The set up is rather messy, and I much prefer the take your chances approach used for Disneyland's Fantasmic. Personally, I think this is just the suits way of presenting World of Color as an event. If it is difficult to see and expensive to do it the best, it must be something special. Guess it works.

Much has been written about this new century Disney extravaganza, so I keep it brief. The music soars, the images are somewhat blurry, a story is unnecessary, and the water fountains bring a brand new dimension to the night. I just wish the after show would have lasted longer. Being in the back of the viewing area, I could easily see the higher streams shooting up, but the richer amazing colors of the smaller jets were harder to see. As with Epcot's Illuminations, the Imagineers' new show is a fitting way to end the evening, but I wish it were only the beginning of a few more hours to tour the park at night. California Adventure has always shone better after dark, and riding Screamin' over a neon lit bay is a different thrill than riding during the day. Why not get more play out of all that atmosphere from the Pier in the evening?

I ended my Disney day at this point, aside from a walk through Downtown Disney. I strolled through the night tired but happy as I realized the Disney Magic was finally ready to strike twice in Anaheim. I do not get to Walt Disney World very often, as family is in Southern California not Florida. My Disney fix comes from the west coast. To say I was disappointed in California Adventure in 2001 would be saying the obvious.

When the calendar hits 2012, it will be a difficult choice should I have only one day to visit a park. I'll always love Disneyland, but at least for awhile, I'll have a love affair with the other park once she's been through surgery. She's working hard to earn my love, and she's almost ready for her second debut.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

October 26, 2010

No Clowning- DCA Trip Report Tomorrow!

No Jokes! No more waiting! Tomorrow morning, you'll find a much detailed trip report of my time to the Disneyland Resort. I'll start with California Adventure and all the changes in midst of the transformation. The Imagineers are doing great work- and lots of it! See you in the morning!
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

October 25, 2010

Disneyland While You Wait

While I finish up my Disneyland Resort trip report, take a look at this awesome report from a couple whose home park is Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. WDWFigment is a regular on the WDWMagic boards, and he has a good discerning eye. His trip report has everything: great photos, details galore, and incredibly well balanced commentary comparing Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom. Really- go here now for a great read.
(Photo copyright Tom Bricker.)

October 24, 2010

Disneyland Days and California Adventure Nights

Just returned from Southern California and the Disneyland Resort. As always, there's a lot to see and a lot to report on. Change seems to be the operative word everywhere you look; Disneyland as well- and not just the park in the midst of the biggest changes in Disney history. Watch for an upcoming trip report this week!
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)

October 22, 2010

Falling Short at Disney's Animal Kingdom

Disney's Animal Kingdom has all of the necessary elements for the makings of a great theme park. Beautiful vistas, great food, exotic shopping and thrills. In fact, thrills can be found in each corner of the park, just awaiting discovery! Take a prehistoric journey on Dinosaur!, a wild and wet but short excursion on the Kali River Rapids, the park's signature attraction, Kilimanjaro Safaris, or my favorite, the lengthy titled but adrenaline producing Expedition Everest: Legend of the Forbidden Mountain. Guess you could even go for the new high end "Wild Africa Trek" if money were no object.

Unfortunately, after the rush wears off- and it does, the park falls flat. There's just not enough real Disney attractions! Time to move on those plans for expansion. Animal Kingdom probably has the most untapped potential of any stateside park. And, for now, the potential stays untapped. Too bad. (If you want to learn more about this place, its design, creation and evolution, start reading my multipart series here.)

October 21, 2010

Bit of Asia

The Boulder Teahouse, also known as the Dushanbe Tea House, is an absolutely wonderful bit of Asia in Colorado! The food varies from Thai to cuisine from Central Asia, but it is the atmosphere that is truly the star. The building was originally overseas, but cut apart and reassembled Stateside. To find out more about the place, its history, more photos, or to see a menu, go here.

(Photograph copyright Mark Taft.)

October 20, 2010

What's Goofy About The Sky School

I keep watching all the construction photo updates from Disney California Adventure, waiting for all the little details to come into play. Sun Wheel to Fun Wheel, Orange Stinger to Silly Symphony Swings, and now Mulholland Madness to Goofy's Sky School. If I were to compare this to a Glamour Shots makeover, doesn't seem like too much different than before. But I am left with some questions...
  • Other than a change in theme, will the Sky School be enhanced in anyway?
  • What musical selections will make the cut when the invariable Disney California Adventure (2.0) music collection comes out?
  • When will California Screamin's track receive the rest of its new blue paint job- and what about a new white coat of paint for the rest of it? How about those flags as seen in the gorgeous concept art?
  • Will guests be able to access Carsland from a street next door to the Paradise Pier Ice Cream Company? Please, not another like the once dead end road leading to Tower of Terror!
  • Will the platforms in Paradise Bay for World of Color ever go down under?
  • And what about that ugly color of the water?
  • Will we have to wait until Ariel's Adventure debuts before we get an updated Blue Sky Cellar?
  • How long will Goofy's Sky School remain?
  • How soon will it be until Cars Land receives another dark ride to absorb more folks in the area? Will Cars Land's main drag be the DCA equivalent to the mess found between Indiana Jones and Pirates of the Caribbean next door at Disneyland? (And I've got tons of questions about Disneyland's future. But that is harder to speculate as nothing has been announced. No Star Tours 2 doesn't cut it.)
I have many more questions about the rebirth of California Adventure. Of course, the biggest one is: Will there be much more California without characters in the plans for Phase Two? Let's hope so.

October 18, 2010

Carpenters Voice of the Heart: The End of A Song

Continuing on with my series on Carpenters albums...
All too quickly after "Made in America" had run its course on the charts, Karen and Richard Carpenter retreated from the music scene. By then, her eating disorder was winning the battle. According to Richard's account, Karen was tired, and it showed. The A&M Records label tried one last time to create interest in their comeback project, and the lame "Beechwood 4-5789" single was released on Karen's 32nd birthday, March 2, 1982. It deservedly fell flat on its face.

During that same time of the year, a little over one month later, my wonderful wife and I married, vowing to love one another before family, friends, and God. By most accounts, we've done pretty well. We are very thankful. Between setting up a home, adjusting to married life and two growing careers, anything other than my marriage and my commitment to Jesus took a back seat. Including music and my love of reading Billboard magazine.

In all honesty, the Carpenters were off my radar. So, it came as quite a shock to receive a telephone call from my sister on the day of February 4, 1983. I was sitting at my desk doing my job. My personal line rang. "I just heard on the radio that Karen Carpenter died this morning." I was positive that my sister's words were a prank, and I laughed at the absurdity of it. No jokes, not this time. I quietly walked out of my office and to my car. The tears came pretty hard.

I flipped on the radio, and of course, the news was all over. Living in Southern California, the Carpenters were home grown talent as well as being international and beloved recording stars. Over the days to come, the story spilled out. How could this be? Sure, Karen was thin, but I never saw it coming. The voice was still terrific and the personality as spunky as ever. In fact, I had been more concerned with the infamous cancer scare rumor that was circulating a few years prior.

Spending many of my mornings in prayer for Richard and his family, it still seemed rather impossible to believe she was gone. As a young man with a strong belief in the authority of the Bible as God's love letter to man, I saw only two options for her eternity, and I praying to God her family roots in Christianity were personalized and had made a lasting impact on her life. After all, missionaries to China were in her family line, so I was hopeful.

A&M Records' tasteful farewell to Karen.

Karen's voice was so much a part of my life, in some ways, her death couldn't be real; it just couldn't be true. From that first hearing of "We've Only Just Begun" while I was riding the school bus, I was hooked. Yet, deep down I knew it was true, and the radio airwaves were full of their recordings for the first week, while tabloid publications printed articles both factual and misleading, full of speculation concerning her death. Eventually, word leaked out that Richard was planning to release an album they had been working on prior to Karen's death.

Life goes on, as they say, and in fact, it did for us. We later discovered my wife was pregnant with our first child. Our journey took a new turn, and we were thrilled by the news. As it worked out, he was born in November- and my wife's baby shower ended up happening just a few days after the release of "Voice of the Heart".

With such powerful personal events surrounding Karen's passing and the release of her first posthumous work, it would have been impossible for me to objectively review the disc then. Admittedly, even after 27 years, (the album was released today that long ago), it is still somewhat hard to do so. My instinctive hunch is many other Carpenters fans are in the same position.

A&M Records promotion sheet

With the release date of the album near, A&M Records had a difficult task on their hands. How would they promote the new album without appearing to cash in on Karen's untimely death? Certainly a delicate task but one in which they succeeded. "A great voice makes new memories" was A&M's tasteful response, and it seemed to be an appropriate promotional campaign. In fact, it felt as if this was one of the few times the company knew exactly how to package and promote the duo. Ironic.

With the choice of "Make Believe It's Your First Time" as the lead single release, Richard aimed squarely for the middle of the road listening audience- or only guaranteed its airplay there instead of on Top 40 radio. Maybe it was the expected depression after Karen's death, the desire to prove his production work on the song was just as powerful as the Phil Ramone produced solo version, or even not his choice at all. Nonetheless, with its choir drenched vocal background, the song was a poor choice, effectively ending their tenure on the American pop charts and radio stations. A&M should have chosen another track. It was great- heartbreakingly so- to hear Karen's voice on the radio, and I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it. Hearing it was emotional- but the sales never came, and the song did not dent the Billboard Hot 100 sales chart.

As with the years of new Carpenters releases before it, I was in place ready to purchase Voice of the Heart on the day of its release. I had bought the single, so I saw the gorgeous photo of Karen and knew what to expect for the cover. Yet, to see it in the large vinyl sized format, stunning! Claude Mougin's portrait of Karen made for a simple, clean but most elegant cover. Karen rarely looked as beautiful as she did portrayed here, with his camera capturing the visual essence of her vocal presence. (Note: I left the image at the top of this post in its full size- click on it to see it in a very large size!) Accordingly, Richard's portrait (by Larry Williams) on the back of the album is an effective tribute. It honors his work and contribution to the duo but clearly and appropriately places the emphasis on Karen, honoring her legacy.

In reviewing the music, let me say, I know this disc well. Very well. In fact, when I was choosing whether or not to buy a compact disc player, it was recommended to me that I purchase an the compact disc version of an album I knew in detail and take it to the dealers for a listen. Voice was the disc I chose back in 1987. (Of course, even my wife knew it was inevitable I would buy a compact disc player!)

Once I got past the cover photo and the song list and Richard's note on the back, it was time for a listen. To hear Karen sing the opening line of this first song makes the listener stop everything else and pay attention. "Now, now when it rains I don't feel cold". Her voice is rich and resonate, clearly without a hint of strain due to the anorexia that ravaged her. She has so much control over her voice. Never a screamer, always an interpreter, Karen shines on the song. Richard's arrangement and orchestration are equally confident and subdued. The oft used oboe, flute, and somewhat mournful saxophone adding to the sublime beauty of her voice. Although many listeners, me included, would have preferred Karen and Richard's background vocals on this recording from 1982, the choir here is just alright- a little pronounced at times- and it adds to the drama of the production even though it detracts from the intimacy.

Under the circumstances, a very well done byline announcing the new album.

With an opening number as powerful as "Now", I expected something more in that melancholy vein. The introduction let me know it wasn't a ballad. The melancholy was there; not in the playful music and joyous singing in "Sailing on the Tide" but in the lyrics: "Leaving at dawn, after I'm gone, life will go on. Someone's gotta take my place running in the human race". However, Karen's vocal work has such a buoyancy to it - starting with the phrasing on the word "sailing"- that the song is just plain fun and a nice break from a pretty serious minded collection. Ultimately, the end result is a much more effective song than the similarly upbeat "Happy", part of the duo's masterpiece album Horizon.

There is one additional but major similarity between "Horizon" and "Voice of the Heart". Both albums present Karen's voice in the same intimate, sonically "warm" manner. For an album that is a patchwork quilt of styles and in years recorded, "Voice" is very consistent in production. The sound is superb, and to misquote Herb Alpert, it does seems as if Karen is sitting in your lap and singing right in your ear. I'm sure Richard had to work extremely hard to accomplish this feat. Kudos to him for persevering in the midst of such great pain!

Admittedly, it has taken some time, years actually, for me to truly appreciate "Sailing". It was only in the repeated listenings of it in preparation for this post that I came to really enjoy it for what it was. It's not an outtake, and it's not a single; it is a strong album cut that reminds the listener Karen and Richard could have much fun in the middle of the stresses of life. I'm glad it is there on this collection! In the midst of so much sadness, there's a piece of joy to be found in the end of her suffering.

After "Sailing", next up is "You're Enough", the first of four Carpenter/ John Bettis compositions on the disc and, to my knowledge, the last songs of theirs recorded. It is a solid work, but again, not Top 40 material. Again, Karen sounds great. This other 1982 recording overcomes its silly "lucky starlight" absurdities by the time it ends, presenting a fairly mature view of love as well as the romantic innocence of when it is new. Thanks to Tim May and Tony Peluso the guitars sound terrific. The drums here by Ron Tutt are just the right touch. In fact, all the drummers, Larrie Londin and Ed Greene included, bring a consistent feel to the recordings. It is sad to note, however, that Karen doesn't play on any of these selections. For a gal who once considered herself a drummer first and a vocalist second, it is just too bad this tribute album of sorts includes no playing by her. Maybe after the disappointment with her unreleased solo album, a clearly lackluster response by the public to the Made in America album, and a failed marriage, Karen lost heart and desire to do more than just sing. Yet there are only two cuts here, so it is difficult to guess what was going on.

In the realm of the instrument of the human voice, there is a little too much choir on "You're Enough"- restraint here would have been better- but the song remains much more sophisticated than earlier ones such as "Sandy" from the Hush disc of 1976. Seems as if this would be the direction future Carpenters projects would go had Karen lived longer. Maybe the next step before the inevitable "American Songbook" they should have recorded.

Both "Now" and "You're Enough" are filled with a genuine warmth that is missing from the tracks recorded for "Made in America". Perhaps Karen understood more about her frail condition than we know, because her reading of these songs harkens back to the yearning and wistfulness of the Tan album, particularly "Rainy Days and Mondays", "Let Me Be the One" and "Hideaway". 

Lyrically, the next song is probably one of the most unexpected in all of the Carpenters catalogue. It comes from Karen's solo album and is blatantly sexual in nature. Unfortunately, although it is beautiful to listen to, Richard's take on it is rather odd. The arrangement is dreary, and the song is drenched in out of place background vocals. In reviewing the album upon its release, Billboard's Paul Grein wryly said, "It's awfully crowded in that bedroom" or something to that effect. Karen herself even sounds a bit bored. "Make Believe It's Your First Time" is better heard as a single on the radio. In its album appearance, the song is further marred by the inclusion of Karen speaking. Yes, it was good to hear her voice, but for the sake of the album, her words could have been saved for a "making of" video or something of the sort. Back then, I didn't like how her in studio comments broke the mood of the album. It still has the same effect when I hear it today. Needless to say, I much prefer the Phil Ramone produced version.

"Two Lives", the next cut, is probably my least favorite on the album, and I would also deem it the weakest. The quasi country arrangement (with oboe?) and again, those background vocals, just seem a bit like to much of a stretch to feel real versus manufactured, leaving the recording lost between two genres. It does come across as a good companion piece of sorts to Made in America's "Somebody's Been Lyin'" as its lyric line tells the tale of a love lost with both parties responsible for the wreckage. All said, the idea of a Carpenters Country Love Song compilation is not that far fetched.

On the album, Side Two begins with "At The End of A Song", another one of the remaining Carpenter/Bettis compositions. The acoustic guitar work by Tim May is beautifully Latin tinged and rather surprising as well as sublimely effective. It's a pretty cut. In my opinion, the selection's a bit of an underdog on this collection but has grown into one of my favorite pieces here. Karen's gentle approach to the lyrics, when it could have been bitter and biting, and Richard's understated arrangement seems just the right gentle touch without being lightweight.

What can I say about their take on Paul William's composition "Ordinary Fool"? Not only is it my personal favorite of every Carpenters recording, it stands as Karen's finest performance and maybe Richard's most stunning arrangement.

This number represents what a true "unplugged" album of theirs would/should sound like: understated, elegant, and like "Superstar" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" before it, years beyond their youth. Chuck Del'Monico's bass gives the tune a blues flavor never attempted before by the duo. Richard plays as if he's been the Piano Man for decades, and John Phillips' tenor saxophone solo quietly and mournfully ties it all together. And the OK Chorale is, thankfully, no where to be found. Sometimes, less is more. Pure audio perfection. (I hear this was originally recorded for "Hush", but it would have fit in wonderfully a year earlier on "Horizon".)

I can almost hear Karen cry as she sings here, as there is a deep but quiet pain in her voice. Desperate but resigned to loneliness. "Goodbye to Love" sounds like "Postman" in comparison. Just listen to the nuance of her phrasing in her final singing of the word "door" as Karen wrings every piece of emotion from the lyrics. Brilliant. Is the song autobiographical? Probably as much as "I Need to Be in Love", and every bit its superior.

Just when it appears to be time to buy stock in Kleenex, things look up with a playful selection. For his part, Richard's vocals shine here on "Prime Time Love"- and each cut with his backing versus the choir proves he and his sister created a better sound compared to anyone else who could have backed her up. The song is fun, fresh and contemporary. A nice break before things get more solemn and melancholy.

"Your Baby Doesn't Love You Anymore" was also recorded for "Made In America" but left aside as an extra. Pity, as it would have given some substance to a very fluffy sounding album. It's another remake as Richard once again draws from the Ruby and the Romantics collection. "Hurting Each Other" was a successful first mining of gold, and this should have been the second. But it was chosen as single release number two, long after radio had already played out the duo. Karen's voice is strong and powerful here. The drama also comes from the arrangement and playing. Richard's background vocals are excellent, proving this was where he belonged. It's a much better showcase of his decent vocal talents instead than being the guy up front. I love this recording- and as with "Ordinary Fool", play it every time this disc goes in the player.

The album closes with "Look to Your Dreams", a beautiful and inspirational song lyrically, but ironically, very sad under the circumstances. Recorded during the "Christmas Portrait" sessions, the end result is more satisfying than Karen's wedding tune. John Bettis' lyrics are clever; Richard's piano solo at the end touching, sad, appropriate. It was hard to believe this Grammy winning duo would never again enter the studio.

"Voice of the Heart" is in many ways the exact opposite of the collection that came before it. There is no hit potential on the disc except "Your Baby", and Richard was not striving for a hit but instead an album to be remembered by. Yet, it is their finest non-holiday album since their earlier masterpiece "Horizon". On "Made in America" where Karen and Richard were clearly striving for a Top 10 smash, they ironically ended up creating a very weak album. Now, for "Voice", an album that consists of mostly outtakes and a few new recordings, the ultimate result is a disc that is very strong; unified in feel and lyric.

Richard has since dissed this collection, saying all the songs should have remained outtakes sans "Now". I disagree with his assessment. The album triumphantly spans a variety of years and styles. If in fact these songs are mostly outtakes, the album genuinely shows what talented artists Karen and Richard were in the studio. Their outtakes are better than many artists' finest efforts! As swan songs go, "Voice of the Heart" ranks among Karen and Richard's greatest recordings. A fitting goodbye from a beloved singer.

All these years after Karen's passing, I still get a bit of a warm melancholy glow whenever listening to this disc. At the time, I was sure this was the end of her songs, but that was before I understood Richard's plans- including an endless stream of remixes and greatest hits collections, with a couple of surprises thrown in. Little did I know, the first one would come a year later.

(Thanks to the various photographers out there who found these images. There were so many duplicates, it was impossible to tell where and who they originally came from.)
2021 Note: This is part of a continuing series of posts on the albums of Karen and Richard Carpenter. There are also numerous stand alone posts highlights different aspects of their career, recordings, and life. 

Below is the list of my initial reviews and then my "Revisited /Fresh Look" reviews a decade later. 

My Initial Reviews of the albums:

October 15, 2010

Does Tokyo Disneyland's Cinderella's Fairy Tale Hall Show New Interactivity Options?

Read the official announcement for this Tokyo Disneyland Attraction. Can we see more interactivity options such as this coming to the American parks?---------------
(October 15, 2010) Tokyo Disneyland® Park announced its decision to open a new attraction titled Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall. This will be a walkthrough-type attraction located inside Cinderella Castle. Guests can wander through gorgeous rooms that bring to life the world of the Disney classic film Cinderella and view paintings, diorama, and other artworks that follow the story of the beloved princess. This new attraction, where guests of all ages can immerse themselves in the world of Cinderella’s fairy tale fantasy, is scheduled to open on April 15, 2011.

Cinderella’s Fairy Tale Hall is located in the castle where Cinderella lives with Prince Charming. Cinderella, wanting to share her magical princess story, decided to open up the castle even during her absence and exhibit various artworks that show scenes from her story.

At the lobby and corridor, guests will find eight murals showing how Cinderella changed from beloved daughter, to servant girl, and then to Princess. They will also see a diorama of Cinderella magically transformed into wearing a beautiful ball gown, and other artworks made from various materials such as paper, wood and glass. In the Grand Hall guests will find a magnificent chandelier, the renowned glass slipper, a throne, and special paintings that reveal a magical message when photographed using a flash.

Attraction Outline

•Location: Inside Cinderella Castle in Fantasyland
•Attraction type: Walkthrough
•Total capital invested: Approximately 2 billion yen
Note: With the addition of this facility, there will be a total of 44 attractions, Disney character greeting facilities and entertainment facilities at Tokyo Disneyland Park (breakdown: 40 attractions, 1 greeting facility, 3 entertainment facilities).

Three Old Friends

Time passes by so quickly, doesn't it?

Friendship is a gift from God, and a very good friend is a reflection of His heart towards us. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for being so caring and so generous!

October 13, 2010

New Art of Hong Kong Disneyland's Adventureland

From Imagineer John Horny, comes this piece of concept art for Adventureland at Hong Kong Disneyland. Isn't it beautiful?

There is a clear nod to the culture with the inclusion of the Chinese Junk and other smaller elements, yet still some very traditional when compared to other Adventurelands found in the parks. Click on it for a full size view.

Just a shame Disney opted out of the eleborate Pirates of the Caribbean themed area! I would have wanted to travel to the park just to see that, as it is my favorite Disney attraction.

You can see more of John's work here.
(Art copyright John Horny and the Walt Disney Company.)

October 12, 2010

No Accident

Ever wonder why some things happen and some things don't?

My brother in law and his daughter were in a very serious accident a few days ago. She was driving, and they were hit by a driver running through a red light at full speed. Not being the first car to move ahead when the light turned green, she didn't expect what happened next.

T boned at full speed, he immediately passed out due to losing so much blood. Medics airlifted him out after they cut him out of the car. My niece freaked, thinking her dad was dead. She immediately called her Mom who was 1500 miles away, screaming on the phone. Since my niece was ultimately only bruised in several places, medics drove her by ambulance to the hospital an hour away.

Shattered nose and sinus cavities, broken bones in his face at several spots, and a fractured hip, my brother in law should have been much worse off than he was. He'll be in a walker for a couple of months, but by all accounts from the police, medics, and doctors, he should have been dead. My niece would have died had she been in the passenger side instead of him. Her body wouldn't have been strong enough to endure the impact.

Why were they spared and others are not? I don't know, but I am thankful. Only God knows why- but this I do know: God chooses to allow what He does to ultimately draw others to Him, displaying his love, and having things happen for his eternal purposes. Nothing is by accident.

October 9, 2010

For My Records

Not to sound harsh or nasty- I've had enough of those types and don't want to be one- but sometimes, I post for me. And honestly, this is one of those times! I find this brand new attraction poster for California Adventure's Silly Symphony Swings very appealing. Had to keep a copy on file. This poster should add a nice touch of class to the Paradise Pier area. Can't wait to see what the Imagineers or the talented Greg Maletic (!) have cooked up for Ariel!
(Art copyright The Walt Disney Company.)

October 8, 2010

Disneyland's Plectus Intergalactic Revue- Concept Art!

Back on my Tomorrowland kick...

Maybe one day after all the changes to California Adventure are complete, Disneyland's Tomorrowland will get something as cool as this-

I took this photo in 1990 of concept art for a new use of the Carousel Theater at Disneyland. I believe the name was to be Plectu's Intergalactic Revue. This was back in the day before characters invaded, when aliens from other planets came and staked territory first. The friendlier ones were to put on this show, and an angrier alien was to make his appearance at the West Coast version of the great Alien Encounter. Plans change, ideas change, and this concept art was eventually removed from the public eye. The building would have looked great- and I left the enlarged image quite big so that the details can be seen.

A call out to Mr. Tony Baxter and those with a passion for being visionary: Please tell all us "Walt's park" geeks that a wonderful makeover of the Land of the Future is not in the too distant one!
(Photo copyright Mark Taft.)


What is it with self-indulgent, entitled, and rude people lately?

OK, I'll admit it- I'm a little ticked. Today, I'm sitting at my favorite cafe, plugged into the wall, checking email and blogging. Sounds like a relaxing way to spend a morning off. The coffee's sure good. Music, too.

Fast forward a half hour later. Some dude about 70 or so, comes to sit at a table by me, and he bends over to plug in his laptop. No problem, right? Except he decides he needs two outlets- and promptly unplugs mine to put his in! (And I'm only mentioning his age because I do not want my readers to think I only see many preteens as entitled and rude!)

Is this what we have become? Really?

October 7, 2010

Jesus and Oral Sex

How is that for a catchy title? Have your attention?

Unfortunately, there is some artwork in a Loveland, Colorado museum seemingly depicting The Creator of the Universe receiving oral sex by a man. (Sorry, no photo for this post!)

I'm all for freedom of expression, but this crosses the line. What about kindness and sensitivity to others and true diversity? If nothing else, if this is in fact true, it is a hateful thing to do, intending to offend even if providing social commentary. Same holds true for those idiots who broadcast that poor young man in sexual acts, causing him to commit suicide. There are no boundaries anymore, I guess.

May God forgive the artist for this lack of good judgment and the city of Loveland for even allowing this to be shown. I forgot, He already did by dying for their sins regardless of what they are- these folks just have to ask for it.