Hayley Westenra’s “Odyssey”
I have been putting off writing this review for a very long time. Why? The simple truth is that I could not quite decide how to review this album. At first, I was quite content to review the first edition of Odyssey that I obtained, the one I know really well, but just out of curiousity, I picked the later edition up, the UK special edition, to see what the difference was. I was struck stupid to realise that there’s a ten track difference. You read that correctly.
‘Well’, I thought, ‘this is stupid’. Maybe I was too busy staring at paint and watching the sun rise and set to notice any commotion over at ‘TEAM HAYLEY WESTENRA‘ (i.e. the ever trustworthy HWI who have since told me that my original edition was never a UK edition) over this confusing blip in her discography, but I am on my own here, and I don’t quite know what to make of it. It’s like I have had this hidden second album all this time without even realising it. I don’t even know why I bought it, especially as I am quite strongly of the ‘SCREW YOUR MANY EDITIONS OF THE SAME ALBUM’ sentiment.
Okay, so if I could only let go of the fact that I basically have two different albums here under the same name, I could actually discuss the album(s).
First, let’s fittingly discuss my first edition. This is what it looks like:
And this is its tracklisting: (* indicates that the track is unique to this edition for me)
2. Never Saw Blue*
3. Dell’ Amore Non Si Sa (with Andrea Bocelli)
4. Ave Maria (Caccini)
5. Both Sides Now
6. What You Never Know (Won’t Hurt You)
7. May It Be
8. Quanta Qualia
9. Bachianas Brasileriras No.5 Aria*
10. She Moves Through the Fair
11. I Say Grace*
12. My Heart Belongs To You*
As you can probably see (if you are a seasoned classical crossover fan) there’s nothing ground-breakingly original here, but I think I have accepted this; especially in light of the second edition of this album (that tracklist may just make you cry tears of blood). So even if this is not an original album with the beautiful team of songwriters Westenra had for Pure (that album may just make you cry tears of joy) it still has some unpredictable (and welcome) tracks.
Patrick Hawes ‘Quanta Qualia’ demonstrates the depth Westenra has when searching and selecting material. He is an extremely obscure composer and Westenra performs a beautiful arrangement of one of Hawes’ most haunting pieces. Meanwhile, Westenra continues to try and set crossover trends rather than follow them with the freshly baked ‘What You Never Know’ from Sarah Brightman‘s then most recent album Harem. Brightman’s original recording of this was actually rather bland (‘gun-to-head’ repititively bland) but Westenra shows great promise by taking this track and adding her own touches to it, injecting a much needed chorus into it. She has truly penned a beautiful melody for the chorus to complement the rest of the song.
Other standout tracks include the opening ‘Prayer’ (beautifully atmospheric and thankfully not David Forster‘s version), the stunning ‘Never Saw Blue (criminally omitted from the second edition) and Enya‘s ‘May It Be’. If I want to stretch out a bit, I may say Joni Mitchell‘s ‘Both Sides Now’ but I do have a little, tiny, small problem with her recording it. It’s premature to begin with (she was 17, not 70) but the upbeat arrangement really contrasts the lyrics. Perhaps it has some artistic point, perhaps it’s demonstrating the optimism of Westenra’s youth, I don’t know, I just know that it’s wrong. But in my darkest hour in the darkest corner of mind I will relunctantly admit that I enjoy her rendition. I do.
There is also the broody duet with Andrea Bocelli ‘Dell’ Amore Non Si Sa’. I think I like it. I like Westenra’s contribution anyway. I have heard Bocelli sing it on his own and it lost some bite. The last song that deserves a singular mention is ‘My Heart Belongs To You’, a more poppy side to Hayley. It’s not amazing but it’s pretty and I certainly don’t skip it when it comes on. It does not make an appearence on the second edition, and whilst it wouldn’t have hurt to have been on there, it’s not dreadfully missed either.
Last and most certainly least are the stinkers. ‘Ave Maria’, ‘Bachianas Brasileriras No.5 Aria’ and ‘I Say Grace’. The latter offends my senses as I have low tolerence levels for jazz and country, and the song seems to take heavy influence from both. The first two are stinkers by principle. It’s okay if I have heard one or two different renditions of a song but when I hit the two digit area I really don’t want to know anymore. ‘Ave Maria’ should be banned. Banned, I say.
My initial problem with this album when I first received it four years ago was the lack of passion in Hayley’s voice. This still stands, but because I am so used to Hayley’s voice now and believe that it will never have that extra gusto, it is something I have come to not mind so much. Her voice is simply what it is – a technical instrument, and a very pretty and accurate sounding one, at that.
Next, we have the second edition of this album, and, as you can see, it looks drastically different: —–>
And its tracklisting: (* indicates that the track is unique to this edition)
1. May It Be
2. The Water is Wide*
3. Dell’ Amore Non Si Sa (with Andrea Bocelli)
4. Laschia Ch’io Pianga*
6. Ave Maria
7. Scarborough Fair*
8. Quanta Qualia
9. O Mio Babbino Caro*
10. What You Never Know (Won’t Hurt You)
11. Both Sides Now
12. The Mists of Islay*
13. Laudate Dominum*
14. She Moves Through the Fair
What did they do to this album? Wasn’t it okay the way it was? It may be worth a mention that in order to classify for the Classical Charts in the UK, you need some rock solid classical material. That is what this edition is about. It’s pigeon holed, it’s bland and it’s unoriginal. This is everything I dislike about classical crossover rolled into one. The day that Westenra lets go of the Classical Charts apron strings, the better her albums will be. This is an edition made for marketing purposes only, and Westenra has shown that she’s better than that. Thank goodness she got her album cut released first. This is the ‘Decca Edition’ of Odyssey, and if you have to select one, go for the ‘Hayley Westenra Edition’.
Score (1st Edition): **********
Score (2nd Edition): **********