Hayley Westenra’s “Prayer”
I am going to take a wild stab in the dark here and guess that no matter what type of music you listen to, that most Eastern country, Japan, has laughed in your face before when they received the coolest edition of that coolest album by the coolest artist. Damn them. Us Westerners are never content with our 12 track albums, we want the four bonus track edition that Japan or Taiwan have. All the more reason to hop over CDJapan and make an account. This beautiful album, Prayer, released only for the Japanese market is no exception. It’s actually a goldmine what mouth-watering tracks for any Hayley Westenra fan.
This album basically has lots of tracks recorded by Westenra that are otherwise scattered all over the place. To put this into perspective, if you want to buy all of these tracks without buying this album, you will have to buy up to twelve albums to make up the tracklisting. You see how awesome this album is now?
So what are these tracks exactly? They are several projects that Westenra has contributed to over the years – mostly film and TV soundtracks, but there are also tracks from her other albums such as ‘Prayer’, ‘May It Be’ and ‘Summer Rain’, whilst the likes of ‘Wiegenlied’, ‘Bridal Ballad’ and ‘You Are Water’ could only previously be found on certain editions of her previous albums. The rest of the tracks were a matter of buying individual soundtracks or another artist’s album (such as ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ with Celtic Woman and ‘There’s A Sparkle In Your Eyes’ with Helmut Lotti). In light of this information, isn’t this album a blessing? Saves us a lot of running around!
Considering that the material of this album is coming from left, right and centre, how does it stand as an album with apparently no cohesive plan or theme? Surprisingly well. The pitfall I have with the majority of Westenra’s albums is that they tend to sound like one song from start to finish, with all the same people writing and arranging throughout, but the diversity that this album has gives it a leg up. Each new song is refreshing and distinctive, and celebrates a variety of styles. When else will Westenra have esteemed film composers such as James Horner and Debbie Wiseman writing music for her?
There are only a few songs that I really skip here. The songs that she has selected from her albums would have been my choices exactly. ‘Prayer’ and ‘Summer Rain’ are fantastic songs. Whilst I’d normally weep when I see ‘The Last Rose of Summer’ on a crossover album, the duet with Maev from Celtic Woman is more than welcome – I have never heard it sung so beautifully. The real treats of this album, however, are the film soundtrack songs. ‘Listen to the Wind’ from The New World soundtrack composed by James Horner, is most often a fan favourite; it’s very similar in style to Enya‘s ‘May It Be’. Debbie Wiseman’s compositions, Jekyll and Flood are dark and haunting, and like she has done with her most recent soundtrack Lesbian Vampire Killers, she has used Westenra as a vocalise. There’s a forgettable Disney track at mid-album point ‘Here Beside Me’ from Mulan 2, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it wouldn’t be missed if it wasn’t there.
Then we have our Shakespearean tracks: ‘Bridal Ballad’ from The Merchant in Venice and ‘I’m Kissing You’ from Romeo and Juliet. ‘Bridal Ballad’ is a stunning vocal piece, borrowing from Edgar Allen Poe‘s poetry for the lyrics, but it is ‘I’m Kissing You’ that takes the prize as my favourite song from the album. It’s easy to miss this song as the gem that it is, as it can sound quite bland to somebody who is hearing rather than listening, but the chorus is beautifully melodic and the lyrics heart-warmingly romantic.
The only mistakes on this album are ‘Tonight’ from West End Story, a duet with Vittorio Grigolo and ‘There’s A Sparkle In Your Eyes’ with Helmut Lotti. To the first, I’m of opinion that it was a mistake for Westenra to be in a cast recording of West End Story, especially as Maria, in the first place. She simply doesn’t have the voice or expression for it. Westenra can do many things with her voice – musicals are not one of them. She makes a flat and dull Maria, and Grigolo is not much better as Tony. I cannot really comment on the Lotti duet other than I dislike it, because I simply do not like the sound of swing or jazz, or voices like Lotti’s. These two tracks are next to each other on the album, so a little double skip and I can pretend that they don’t exist. Fine by me.
Considering the nature of this album, it is somewhat surprising how it all melds together so beautifully, and how I came to like the majority of the album despite its cut and paste structure. This cements the idea in me that diversity can only be a good thing, and if another expensive import from Japan like this comes along again, I will definitely fork out, because as it turns out, I like this album so much I think it rivals my love for Westenra’s first international album Pure.