For this, the fourth Hayley Westenra album that I've bought but the first I've reviewed, Hayley has chosen to restrain herself somewhat. There is no evidence here of the power that her voice is capable of, but this appears to be a deliberate choice. If she had chosen to, she could have belted out Sleigh ride, as other singers sometimes do, but even this song is taken at mid-tempo. Those who like Hayley for the power in her voice will find nothing here to appeal to them, but the music is no less brilliant because of its mellowness.
A characteristic of Hayley Westenra albums is that different versions are released and this album is no exception. The American version contains 14 tracks. The Japanese version contains those 14 tracks plus a non-Christmas bonus track titled On the wings of time. The British version contains the 14 tracks as released on the American edition plus a duet with Ronan Keating on a song that Ronan co-wrote titled It's only Christmas. Ronan released his own Christmas album in 2009, also including the song. I haven't heard that album but I'm told that the version there is a Ronan solo, not featuring Hayley.
The set opens with Little road to Bethlehem, a song previously recorded by both Shawn Colvin and Aled Jones, but it deserved to be more frequently recorded. The next song is Carol of the bells, which I think generally works best as a group song with different voices, but Hayley does as good a solo version as I've heard. Elsewhere, the album contains a few standards including The Christmas song, Silent night, Little drummer boy and the aforementioned Sleigh ride, but those looking for a selection of mostly familiar songs are advised to look elsewhere. To the standards, we should now add River, the Joni Mitchell song that now turns up frequently on Christmas albums though this wasn't always the case.
The other tracks include Coventry carol, which is quite well known in Britain though I don't see it very often on American albums. Alison Moyet recorded a fine version for the original A very special Christmas, so anybody who has that album will recognize the song. Two other traditional carols featured are Corpus Christi carol (which I don't remember hearing elsewhere, though I probably have) and Veni veni Emmanuel, which is a Latin version of a more familiar song. Hayley co-wrote three songs (Christmas album, All with you, Peace shall come) while Winter's dream may also be an original song.
This is a great mellow Christmas album, especially for those who want a song selection that isn't too predictable.