09.01.06 FOX 411

Sting loves to pick at strings. Everyone remembers him from Police videos playing his favorite instrument, the upright bass. It's the sound that gave the Police songs their timeless originality.

But last year, Sting decided to try a new stringed instrument - the lute. You don't hear a lot of lutes on pop records. You hear mandolins, but no lutes. They are usually left to classical musicians with a lot of training.

You know that wouldn't stop Sting. The result is a new album that drops next month, called 'Songs from the Labyrinth', for which Sting has used the songs of 16th century composer John Dowland for his foundation.

A more seasoned and veteran lutenist - yes, that's what they're called - named Edin Karamazov plays on the CD, but Sting is right in there (this is similar to how Billy Joel put out his own classical CD, having Richard Jewell perform the work).

And how is Sting on the lute? He sounds good to me, but when I asked him about it recently, he did say that Karamazov sometimes winces as his pupil forges ahead.

'Labyrinth' is a very ambitious project, and it will not be to everyone's taste. Certainly, if you're looking for a hit single, it's not here. But I have a prediction - 'Songs from Labyrinth' will turn out to be the biggest Christmas CD of the year.

It has that feeling, of mulled wine and Yule logs in fireplaces. Sting told me he didn't think it would sell, but my guess is he's wrong. It's going to become a perennial.

What makes pop artists want to make these albums? (Elvis Costello takes side trips all the time, as does Paul McCartney). The answer of course is boredom with the demands of a regular album schedule, and the desire to stretch in a new direction.

In Dowland, Sting has found something of a soul mate, too. His "lyrics," written in the early 1600s, fit the rocker's voice well.

Here's another prediction: even though "hit single" is not the first thing that comes to mind with 'Labyrinth', watch for a short number - all 23 tracks are short compared to modern pop music - called 'Fine Knacks for Ladies' to turn into a sleeper on "lite" radio stations. Sting's vocal is superbly rich and humorous, much like his much-loved 'Englishman in New York'.

Some other tracks to watch: 'Clear or Cloudy' and 'Can She Excuse My Wrongs?' (Wait 'til tea leaf readers get a hold of the latter! But Sting's wife, Trudie, needn't worry).

So bravo for Sting. It should be interesting to hear how all of this influences his next rock album.

© Fox 411 by Roger Friedman
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