The late Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard dominated the early 70’s pop charts and radio. And were a duo who helped define what we now know as the easy listening sub genre. As such,The Carpenters are still only very loosely considered to be a rock act. And would likely be exhibit A for “devoid of funk” to the ears of many. That is…not entirely true on the last part. As instrumentalists, Karen especially came out of being a jazz drummer. She loved classic Motown too. While at first not always evident,Karen Carpenter’s love of rhythm proved very significant for The Carpenters a bit later on.
By 1977,Karen’s anorexia and Richard’s prescription drug addiction kept them from being too musically involved. This happening at a time when both desired to mature as artists and change up their sound. The result was the 1977 album Passage. Not only did it contain no drumming from Karen,but no songs written by Richard either. The duo produced the album with a variety of contemporary jazz songwriters and musicians. The hit they had was a version of Klaatu’s “Calling Occupants (Of Interplanetary Craft)” But the song that really got me here was the Michael Franks composed opener “B’wana She No Home”.
Ron Tutt’s bossa/calypso drumming (with Tommy Vig and Jerry Steinholtz on percussion and congas),Joe Osborn’s slinky and flamboyant bass line along with Peter Jolly’s piano make up the intro and refrain of the song-along with Tony Peluso’s bluesy electric guitar. On the choruses,this guitar gets more fuzz filtered. Tom Scott joins in with his sax breaks on the second refrain. He also solos twice in the song. Once on the bridge playing a flute solo. And then,after Karen’s final chorus of the song,he plays a bop styled improvised sax solo as the song fades out.
One of the best things about “B’wana She No Home” is that its the bluesy Calypso jazz/funk vibe Michael Franks set up in his composition brings out another side of Karen Carpenter vocally. Rather than being in her usual reflective and somewhat sad vocal mood, she gave this song the female equivilant of Frank’s sensual and amorous vocal delivery. Even though the Carpenters who not as creatively involved in this song as they normally were,it set up the more soul/disco influence Karen Carpenter solo material recorded a couple of years later. And the more soul/pop based music of their final albums together.