Rachael MacFarlane is a voice actress who has lent her talents to a number of animated television projects since the late '90s, and in 2005, she was chosen to provide the voice of Hayley, the free-thinking, college-age daughter on the show American Dad. Since Rachael's older brother Seth MacFarlane was the creator of American Dad, as well as a producer and writer, her audition was presumably only slightly more rigorous than the one that landed Seth the job of voicing Stewie Griffin on his other successful prime-time animated series, Family Guy. An interest in big-band jazz and pre-rock & roll pop music appears to run in the MacFarlane family, since Seth released the Sinatra-influenced Music Is Better Than Words in 2011, and now Rachael has cut her own album, Hayley Sings, in which she interprets 14 popular standards in a variety of jazz and pop styles. Rachael is a good enough singer (better than her brother, at least), but she brings a melodrama to several of these performances that's embarrassing and overbearing; she sells "Makin' Whoopee" so hard the lyrics get swallowed up in her overwrought phrasing, and when the cha-cha arrangement of "Do You Want to Dance" upshifts into salsa while MacFarlane interpolates the lyrics to David Bowie's "Let's Dance," the effect is like falling into some aural rabbit hole. The arrangements by Matt Catingub and Tedd Firth lean to clichés, and when they do reach in an unexpected direction, it's often worse (the version of Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle" sounds like it was destined to accompany the "Local On the 8's" updates on the Weather Channel). Rachael is easily at her best here when the performances are at their simplest -- her interpretations of "Since You Asked" and "Loneliness" are quite good, freed from an effort to sound "period" and simply approaching the lyrics at face value. However, the most curious aspects of the album are Rachael's liner notes, in which she discusses how the songs were meant to reflect the taste of her fictional counterpart. If a crunchy semi-hippie like Hayley Smith were to make an album, it would be dominated either by Ani DiFranco tunes, hipster indie rock in the manner of the Arcade Fire, noodle-dance-friendly jam band material, or some combination thereof. Sorry, Rachael, but there is no smell of patchouli on Hayley Sings, and without that, your concept falls to the ground.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming