She may not be a particularly big name in the UK, but given the recent explosion of interest in winsome Scandinavian folk, this could well be the album that breaks her. Indeed, the opening track here, Solitary Move, feels like ticking off the reference points of recent Swedish artists: the finger-picking acoustic of Jose Gonzalez, the wistful vocal quality of First Aid Kit, and so on.
The Night Visitor has a more sparse sound than Ternheim’s previous records. Gone are the lush orchestrations, and in their place are austere arrangements dominated by acoustic guitar and some subtle string sections. Ternheim’s accented vocals are never less than charming, but the general quality of the songwriting on The Night Visitor is pretty middling.
When it works, it’s absolutely beautiful. Walking Aimlessly is a gorgeously breezy, folky number with the inspired choice of Will Oldham on backing vocals. Oldham’s distinctive tones mesh well with Ternheim’s plaintive voice, and it’s probably the strongest song here.
Another duet provides another highlight, this time with legendary engineer Dave Ferguson (who’s worked on Johnny Cash‘s American series and U2‘s Rattle & Hum) on a beautiful cover of country singer Josh Turner‘s The Longer The Waiting (The Sweeter The Kiss). In fact, Ternheim works so well with male vocals that the idea of an album’s worth of duets must be tempting for some at her record company.
When the songs just rely on Ternheim though, problems become apparent. Her vocals are cool and unaffected – possibly too unaffected. A lot of these songs deal with heartbreak and loss, but there’s no hint of passion or edge in Ternheim’s delivery.
So, with 12 tracks, an album full of pleasant, winsome folk becomes a bit of a chore after a while. It’s nice and pretty, and certainly makes for good background music, but you start to long for some grit after a while.
There’s no doubt that there’s a ready-made audience for Ternheim’s songs – the presence of her music on a number of US TV shows demonstrates that melancholic folky pop will always be popular. She’s also got an ear for a memorable couplet, such as God Don’s opening “in his arms I forget, beautiful women he met behind my back” but in an overcrowded marketplace for music like this, Ternheim needs something a bit different to stand out from the crowd. The Night Visitor, as pleasing as it is on occasion, is lacking that quality.