Anna Ternheim, Leaving on a Mayday (Universal Music, 2008)

Swedish singer Anna Ternheim made a very big initial impression with me last year when a self-titled six song EP of older material became her first American release. Halfway to Fivepoints, a full-length album that also contained older material, followed within a few months. In 2008 she recorded an album of brand new songs called Leaving on a Mayday. The new album was released in Sweden late last year, has just been released in the rest of Europe, and presumably will get to America soon.

Ternheim goes in a very different musical direction on Leaving on a Mayday than the dark folk and alternative of her previous efforts. While I always respect performers who aren't afraid to try new things, the change just doesn't work here. Producer Björn Yttling repeatedly tries to pair Ternheim's subtle alto and deliberate delivery with hyperactively busy percussion, and the result is more like oil and water than chocolate and peanut butter. Too often her voice gets overwhelmed by what's going on around her, whether it's the drumming or, in the case of "Let It Rain," a single note played over and over on the piano. Other additions, like strings and a group of backing singers, could have been used to better effect, but the arrangements generally lacked imagination.

Fortunately, Ternheim's songwriting remains strong enough to at least salvage the album. "Summer Rain," with Ternheim's guitar providing the only accompaniment, is a gorgeous track even though the backing vocals sound a bit crowded. Other highlights include "Off the Road," the other percussion-free song on the album, and the haunting closer "Black Sunday Afternoon." With songs like "Let It Rain" and "Losing You," though, you can't help thinking that they could have been much more effective if done differently.

And that's what makes this album frustrating; too many songs deserved better treatment than they got. Leaving on a Mayday is a textbook example of how not to produce an album. Anna Ternheim is a top-notch singer who brought a strong assortment of songs to the table, and yet somehow the result is a so-so recording. That should not have happened.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott

A vocals only version of "Summer Rain"

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