“Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?”

Just try not to finish that lyric and not have it stuck in your head for the rest of the day. Karen Carpenter had one of the most engaging and unforgettable voices of the seventies, and with her brother Richard, produced a string of hit songs that helped establish one of the distinctive sounds of the decade.

Karen Carpenter died tragically in 1983 from a heart attack related to anorexia nervosa, but her music still captures the hearts of listeners today. Chicago’s Close To You - A Tribute to the Carpenters, led by vocalist Lisa Rock, is currently one the best ways to experience their timeless music live. The Carpenters’ were almost as well known for their multiple Christmas albums and television specials as they were for their mellow pop hits, so Close To You will be presenting a special Christmas version of their popular show when they perform at Tybee Post Theater on Friday, Dec. 13.

“It’s kind of a throwback to the old variety shows,” said Rock referring to the two Carpenters Christmas television specials, Christmas albums, and an appearance on Perry Como’s Christmas special.

“We have five sources from which to choose music and we could be on stage for seven hours, but we make it into a 90 minute show. We touch on all of the Christmas songs that we picked that we hope people love and we mix in some of the pop tunes, as well.”

Rock has produced several successful cabarets over the years, but her Carpenter’s tribute is particularly close to her. She is a life-long fan and is especially drawn to the amazing qualities of Karen Carpenter’s voice.

“The purity, the clarity, that longing in her voice,” said Rock. “You go back and listen to ‘Close to You’ and you realize she was nineteen when she recorded it and you hear that longing in her voice. ‘Superstar,’ ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’...She just was not meant for this world very long. She was so ahead of everything vocally and had that longing. And things she hadn’t even experienced yet, you could feel it. I think there is music that shoots straight to your heart and soul, and she did that. And it was always about her music. It wasn’t a show or anything like that. It was just about the music and that appealed to me because I was never about an image.”

With a four-octave range, Rock is particularly adept at capturing the spirit of Karen Carpenter and is able to sing the tunes in their original key, which is often difficult for other singers.

“I think it is more accessible for people who aren’t singers because it’s a speaking voice for a lot of people, but it does go down pretty low,’ Rock explained. “Most people don’t have that lower bottom range that she has—singing in low Ds, E flats and Fs—that’s not usually a lot of singers that perform. So, there are not a lot of people doing that.”

Close To You have performed hundreds of shows over a period of almost a decade and Rock is still amazed by the enthusiastic response she gets from fans of The Carpenters.

“It still blows my mind,” said Rock. “Standing ovations where ever we go, and full houses, and people telling us their personal stories about seeing them, their experience with it...it’s still overwhelming to this day and I guess when it’s not I need to quit.”

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