Album Reviews

Hayley Westenra – Odyssey

(Decca) UK release date: 26 September 2005

When Hayley Westenra first appeared two years ago, she was widely hailed as the ‘new Charlotte Church‘. In 2005, how things have changed. While Ms Church has discovered alcohol, fags, famous rugby players and pop music, it’s more of the same in Westenra’s world.

For you won’t find Hayley jiggling about in cleavage enhancing corsets in her video, or being pictured staggering out of nightclubs with a fag in her hand. She’s taken the younger Church model for success – photogenic young girl sings classical songs – and developed it further while remaining impeccably tasteful.

What’s more surprising is how appealing this album is for those who aren’t grandparents. I admit that I played this CD with a fair degree of prejudice, expecting it to be nice, middle-class music for Daily Mail readers – people who can’t be bothered with ‘real’ classical music, but are happy to listen to a �lighter’ alternative while pretending to be sophisticated.

Of course, that is a criticism that could be levelled at Odyssey, but it would be deeply unfair. For Westenra has an absolutely stunning voice, the sort that really can send goosebumps up and down your spine, and the material chosen for her is, in parts, just wonderful.

It’s not really classical music as such, in fact there are far more folky influences at work here. The opening Prayer is just lovely, pitching Westenra’s clear voice against a plucked acoustic guitar, while James Brett’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra swells and sways subtly in the background. It’s reminiscent of Enya, bringing a similar mood of melancholy calm over the listener.

Talking of Enya, her song May It Be (taken from the Lord Of The Rings film) is covered by Westenra here, and she sings it beautifully, if not particularly different to the original. Another cover version is Both Sides Now, the Joni Mitchell song. It’s been done to death of course, but Westerna brings something different to it, admirably treating it as the pop song it is and resisiting the temptation to emote the lyrics too much.

Dell’Amore Non Si Sa is another dramatic highlight, with the Ensemble Of Bologna on orchestral duties, and Andrea Bocelli lending his considerable vocal talent. The production does rather hint that the two singers recorded their vocals on different sides of the world (apparently not the case, as the two have met), but this doesn’t detract from the uplifting nature of the song.

All bases are covered on Odessey – there’s traditional classical fare such as Mozart’s Laudate Dominum, and the heartrending Puccini number O Mio Babbino Caro, and there’s what could be termed breakaway pop hits, like the piano ballad Never Saw Blue and the gorgeously wistful What You Never Know. The latter, in particular, could easily be a big hit if released as a single.

She also manages the impossible by recording possibly the definitive version of Irish folk standard She Moves Through The Fair – although the backing band do rather bring back memories of the film Titanic. The almost impossibly sad Dido’s Lament brings the album to a suitably delicate close.

So while this may well be music for middle-aged, middle-class people, it cannot be denied that it’s done incredibly well. Westenra has a truly special voice – one that could be listened to all day in fact. For anybody wanting something a little bit different to listen to, and maybe curl up with as the cold nights draw in, this comes highly recommended.

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Hayley Westenra – Odyssey