1. Who is the band? What is their history? What motivates them?
Sting is famous for his lead vocals in the legendary band The Police and his many solo albums of jazz and pop rock. He is an international performer and star of the screen as well. His voice is also one of the most famous in rock and now modern jazz.
2. Why did they make this album? What was the passion or message that forced them to produce what they have? Or, simply what was their motivation for the themes they chose for this album?
Sting was asked to write a Christmas album, and he chose instead to do a seasonal winter themed album of music which would sum up his feelings about this transitional and reflective time of the year.
3. What message are they delivering through their lyrics and music?
1. Gabriel’s Message – Opening with a quiet trumpet and slowly tapped percussion, this story of the angel Gabriel bringing the message to Mary, that she has been chosen to deliver the son of God, is an earthy and acoustic song to herald the opening of this album. There will be many twists and turns of mood throughout the album and this song provides a brief, quiet moment of contemplation.
2. Soul Cake – The best song on the album and the first single. The story behind this and all of the songs makes this album so wonderfully interactive. You want to read and research more to get to the inspiration for each song. The mandolin and beat on this one are wonderful, as are Sting’s lead and the supporting vocals. After the first quiet opener, this one takes off fast and furious. The trumpeted sound of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ in the middle is fantastic.
3. There is No Rose of Such Virtue – Back to the quiet, snow falling, sound of Sting’s vocals, with some quiet drums and a lute. More rhythm here and a vocal round develops and is sustained throughout. Like many of the songs on this album the vocals really are challenging and lift the songs over the quieter instrumentation.
4. The Snow it Melts the Soonest – A traditional song, with Sting’s lead vocals, guitar and bass. Sting delivers this song with incredible variation in vocals and such passion you can sense how important it was for him to include it. Very tranquil and peaceful. You can feel and almost hear the quiet of snow falling.
5. Christmas at Sea – An interesting story set to music. Fighting a winter storm at sea on Christmas day. The backing vocals, harp, violins and percussion take you out on the ocean as the rhythm moves with the swelling waves. Incredible feeling with the bells of the church and all the effects that make you a part of the story. My second favorite song on the album.
6. Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming – Another beautiful song of the season. The melodeon playing in the background. Sting’s vocals again meeting the challenge of many difficult notes and variations.
7. Cold Song – No song on the album challenges Sting’s voice more than this one. Violin and cello along with the lowest sounding notes I have ever heard Sting sing. With recorder keeping pace and rhythm along with bass and clarinet this one tells a sad story.
8 . The Burning Babe – Almost a jig opening to this one full of acoustic instruments like the mandolin, melodeon, harp, and soprano sax, the latter even getting a wonderful solo interlude mid way through the piece, that lasts until the song ends.
9 . Now Winter Comes Slowly – Organ, cello, viola and violin opens this sad song. Sting’s voice again does a great job of setting the reflective mood and conveying the power of the message delivered.
10. The Hounds of Winter – A different version of this song off Sting’s album Mercury Falling. A much more powerful and acoustic, earthy version of the song. New musicians bring a whole new fireside spirit to this one. Better than the original. Willingness to try something old with a new twist really helps add to and strengthen the composer. No doubt the early inspiration for this entire project and album. Can’t imagine the album without this one.
11. Balulalow – Acoustic guitar and the quiet choir in the background with a snare drumming in the background, reminiscent of the little drummer boy. Chris Botti’s trumpet sounding over the din really adds to the call to nations to behold the power of the holy night.
12. Cherry Tree Carol – Sting and an acoustic guitar, that’s all you need here.
13. Lullaby for an Anxious Child – Sting with acoustic guitar, violin, cello, melodeon, harp, and bass. A wonderful lullaby and reflective song for the season.
14. The Hurdy – Gurdy Man – Very sad song, with Sting’s solo vocals accompanied by Julian Sutton’s melodeon and Daniel Hope’s violin. Sad but quietly reflective piece.
15. You Only Cross My Mind in Winter – More of a traditional Christmas song. Very nice with lute and bass.
16. Bonus track – Blake’s Cradle Song – Another lullaby, “with soft down”, that really makes you feel so comfortable by the fire bundled in blankets and calm. “Sleep, sleep, happy child all creation slept and smil’d.” Some of the deepest, lowest sounding vocals I have ever heard from Sting.
3. Does this music improve, change, or add to the genre? What does the listener receive from listening to the music?
One of the better albums of the year. A fantastic way to close out one of the best years of music in recent memory. This one really gives new perspective to the time of year. This album is just as Sting describes it on the DVD, accompanying the digi – pack, an organic and acoustic music designed to capture the feeling of the contrast of the cold and warmth of winter. This is a time of very deep contemplation and reflection, where nature dies to be reborn in the spring. Yet at the same time families gather to provide the warmth that get us through these sometimes dark times. This is a period where the earth and humanity gather together and regroup for the New Year. This music is perfect for winter and its deep contemplation and not meant to be a traditional Christmas holiday album. The performers are at the top of their game and chosen well to provide the strengths of their musical backgrounds. The music is both authentic and endearing. Very original, yet at the same time with hints of the poetry and tradition of the past.
4. Does it have longevity? Is it something a fan will like to play again and again?
Absolutely! The songs can be played throughout the winter season and some of the lullabies can be sung or listened to any time of the year. This is a lasting memory of deep reflective songs written and performed with incredible care by amazing professionals. Sting, as always lifts himself to challenge his last performance, making each one better than the last. Here he really pushes his voice in directions I have not heard before. Challenging himself as an artist and his art. Waiting three years after Songs from the Labyrinth to deliver a perfect winter season album. I can’t wait to see where he goes next!
Rating: 9/10 – Excellent way to start a new winter tradition. This one will get allot of play here this winter. Many of the songs can be played all year long.
Reviewed by Prof on January 5th, 2010