Hayley Westenra's PR flacks say don't compare her to Charlotte Church, but the voices are so similar it's impossible not to. Hayley has that youthful, crystal clear soprano which cuts through a room like a laser. I first heard her on Pandora.com, a tune from her Odyssey album called Never Saw Blue. It was very pretty, but it was a showcase for a spectacular voice rather than an expression of emotional lyrics. I was hoping she had more depth than that, seeing as her bio shows a long list of child star roles in Christchurch musicals and work as a street singer.
So I bought Odyssey and her double album Pure and gave them a listen. Sad to say, Never Saw Blue is one of maybe three tunes in which she shows any capacity at all for telling the story of the song. And that's where comparing her to Ms. Church would be wrong - it would be an insult to Ms. Church.
And it's probably a reason she is mostly unknown in the US. She has an amazing voice, and her technical skills are superb, but she sells her pipes, and not the song. The albums go one step further in the wrong direction by featuring a few songs in the Maori language, but she isn't Maori, and the arrangements are done up so whitebread that I'm expecting an advertising tag line at the end for Twinkies. Though there is a wide variety of songs on the CDs, they mostly sound the same.
It's very sad. Her voice is one in a hundred million. In New Zealand she'll be able to continue to be the "home town girl makes good" forever, but if she hopes to make it in the rest of the world, she'll need to find some good teachers to show her that words are not mere sounds to push out of her lungs. With a couple of small exceptions, the two albums remind me of Italian vowel exercises we do for warm-ups before going onstage for a musical. She's young. There's time.
Edit add: someone left an anonymous comment about the Maori connection which I will be happy to have here if it is submitted from a logged-in LJ account.