This fall, Sting will release a new album dedicated to his favourite season - Winter - a season which has inspired countless songwriters over the centuries and produced a wealth of music exploring all of its many guises.
If On a Winter's Night... presents an arc of songs that conjures the season of spirits, resulting in a haunting, spiritual and reflective musical journey. "The theme of winter is rich in inspiration and material," comments Sting; "by filtering all of these disparate styles into one album I hope we have created something refreshing and new." He continues, "Our ancestors celebrated the paradox of light at the heart of the darkness, and the consequent miracle of rebirth and the regeneration of the seasons."
In collaboration with esteemed producer and arranger, Robert Sadin, "If On a Winter's Night..." features traditional music of the British Isles as its starting point. Sting and guest musicians interpret a stirring collection of songs, carols, and lullabies including The Snow it Melts the Soonest (traditional Newcastle ballad), Soul Cake (traditional English "begging" song) Gabriel's Message (14th century carol), Balulalow (lullaby by Peter Warlock) and Now Winter Comes Slowly (Henry Purcell).
Two of Sting's own compositions are also featured on the album, Lullaby for an Anxious Child and The Hounds of Winter, which originally appeared on his previous release Mercury Falling, alongside Hurdy Gurdy Man, - a musical reworking and English translation (by Sting) of Der Leiermann from Schubert's classic winter song-cycle Winterreise.
For this exploration of the themes and emotions of Winter, Sting is joined by friend and long time colleague, guitarist Dominic Miller. Additional guests include an ensemble of three remarkable musicians from Northern England and Scotland: Kathryn Tickell (fiddle and Northumbrian pipes) Julian Sutton (melodeon) and Mary MacMaster (metal string Scottish harp), along with Daniel Hope (violin), Vincent S?ï¿½gal (cello), Chris Botti and Ibrahim Maalouf, (trumpet), Cyro Baptista and Bijan Chemirani (percussion), the Webb Sisters (vocals) and Stile Antico (vocal ensemble). Watch the preview trailer for "If On A Winter's Night..."
Review from The Australian
Cocking a snook at Bob Dylan's Christmas offering, Sting's festive fare eschews the conventional approach in favour of an altogether more catholic and sombre take on the season. Those to whom yuletide is anathema will find solace in his meditation on winter, with its soothing if somewhat scholarly, centuries-straddling mix of folk and classical songs, with world and jazz colouring.
Even his solo rendition of Cherry Tree Carol is more a spiritual than traditional Christmas song. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen only surfaces in Soul Cake as a counterpoint to the lyrics, with brass serving as the icing on top. Gratifyingly, Gordon Sumner gives full rein to his Geordie accent in the Northumberland folk ballad The Snow it Melts the Soonest and Christmas At Sea. Jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett's scorching soprano solo and Jack DeJohnette's cultured drumming, on the other hand, elevate the traditional English "begging" song The Burning Babe, the words of 16th-century martyr Robert Southwell set to a Chris Wood tune, to a sublime level.
Regular Sting accompanist Kathryn Tickell's violin and Northumbrian pipes dovetail with the stile antico vocal ensemble on the translated 15th-century German carol Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming, providing a beguiling backdrop to Sting's thespy spoken-word passages. Bassam Saba's oud and ney and the percussion of Rhani Krija and Bijan Chemirani imbue There is No Rose of Such Virtue with Middle Eastern hue. The Hounds of Winter, from an earlier Sting album, is regurgitated in ballad form with bass clarinet, cello and melodeon backing.
Among the attractions of Sting's latest concept album, for this reviewer, is the allusion to older pagan traditions of the winter solstice. The singer has rarely sounded better, whether exploring the extremities of his albeit limited vocal range or lodged in more familiar register, or singing his own songs or pieces set to music by Henry Purcell, Franz Schubert and J. S. Bach. Say what you like about him - and he does seem to attract polar opinion - Sting is a serious musical adventurer.
Review from The Newark Star Ledger
To Sting's credit, he didn't make a tinsel-spinning holiday record like any pop star. This is a concept album on the darkly magical, contemplative aspects of winter. The folk-tinged acoustic arrangements are gorgeous, with the material ranging from medieval carols and Peter Warlock's beautiful hymn "Balulalow" to a superior remake of Sting's own "Hounds of Winter."
His cover of Peter, Paul and Mary's "Soul Cake," with its fiddle, brass and unaffected vocal, is infectious. That last bit is key, because the arch theatricality that can creep into Sting's singing ruins the Baroque songs. But his accordion-laced take on Schubert's "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man" raises a doleful shiver, and "Cherry Tree Carol" has a simple loveliness. This is one of Sting's most heartfelt solo efforts in ages.
Review from The Philadelphia Daily News by Jonathan Takiff
Sights are set especially high by Sting with "If on a Winter's Night" (Deutsche Grammophon, B). The Sting-meister digs into several centuries of music for this mix of old English carols, hymnlike wintry songs plus a few from his own song catalog, - with an apt, recurring theme that winter/Christmas really can be the cruelest season of all.
True to his signature, the tunes are delicately seasoned with a swirl of folk, pop, classical and jazz flavors, and so subtly performed by the singer and all-acoustic band that you might take it for blissful chill music, instead of a fearsome freeze-out.
Review from The Times of India
Winter, we're told, is Sting's favourite season. Here, the high priest of classy pop pays tribute to winter and to Christmas. He could have done it the way most artistes do, via hurried renditions of well-known carols, and sold a few million copies... But that isn't Sting's way.
Here's his way: grab seven amazingly-talented musicians who play instruments varying from Northumbrian pipes to Celtic harps to good old trumpets, coop them all in a house near Florence (with his dog Compass) and weave musical magic using old songs, lullabies, carols, even classic poems. 'Gabriel's Message' kicks it off with the hushed plucking of harp strings, setting the mood as more brooding than ecstatic, though upbeat tracks like 'Soul Cake' lift it here and there. Sting's musical arrangements are spot on, mixing traditional tunes with new riffs. And the singing is darned good too; just hear Sting switch scales on 'There Is No Rose Of Such Virtue'.
This album won't top charts or burn dance floors but it will be cherished as an artistic achievement. That, we suspect, is Sting's intent. PLAYLIST PICKS | The Snow It Melts The Fastest (Sting's searing vocals + minimal instrumentation = a haunting melody); Christmas At Sea (Sting's fascination for the sea - remember Soul Cages? - meets his love for winter in his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's poem); The Burning Babe (pipes and violins mark Sting's version of a slightly morbid poem by 16th century Jesuit martyr Robert Southwell... The effect is magical)
Review from Living North by Julian West
As Sting nears his 60th year, his physical fitness remains excellent, brought about by a personal desire to look and feel great and knowing that to perform well on stage, fitness and wellbeing are key components. His musical journey has also been a rollercoaster.
From jazz to gatecrashing punk with more than a hint of reggae, through rock to folk he has also swapped his guitar for a lute from time to time and the lyrics of 'Demolition Man' for the music of John Dowland. It's a remarkable mixture and the beauty of the North East in his latest deeply thoughtful work has provided much inspiration from his upbringing here. Initially, his record company suggested a Christmas record - but fearing the nuances of 'Frosty' :Rudolph' et al the Christmas focus was given a seasonal twist - that of winter.
It's an inspiring work and for one who cannot call himself a fan yet loved some of the classic Police hits as well as some of the solo work - it's a real discovery, revealing not only some hugely talented musicians, but the next step of Sting's own journey, in which he researched sacred songs, classical songs, folk songs and secular songs. The end product is a haunting, emotional, spirited and spiritual work. The songs have an ambivalent quality and we explore different musical types, drawing some of them together. The songs are varied and melodic, haunting yet calming and clearly in some ways at least, reflective on his own Christmases and winters past. In so doing, he is also dealing with some of his own spirits, his parents, old friends and memories, whether it's his conscience, or his constant yearning to move forward yet also look back into the magical music of traditional folk songs, carols, lullabies and the renditions of Henry Purcell, the poetic words of Robert Louis Stevenson or the music of J S Bach.
Some would say the audacity reflects an unbridled ego - others would pay homage to a hugely talented thinker with the voice of a rock star and the soul of a poet. It will be fascinating to see what the critics make of it - it is mournful melodic and magical. It's also varied and reflects well the depth and variety of the harshness of winter and Christmas lullabies, songs and tales.If you do have time to reflect this Christmas, sample 'If On A Winter's Night' - it might well raise your own spirits.
Review from The Age by Michael Dwyer
The songwriting credit "Bach, Sting" is a gift to those who would paint the yogic Police man a pretentious prat, but there's no faulting the sincerity or realisation of this ethereal Christmas offering. Schubert, Praetorius, Dryden, Purcell, Robert Louis Stevenson and the ubiquitous "traditional" join a millennial super group of olde folk instruments and weird stories that merge the Christ legend with the pagan smoke of a mid-winter fire. Harps, pipes, bowed strings and hunting horns enhance a tonally mysterious and lyrically unsettling world of beggars, angels, burning babes and compellingly human biblical figures. Draw the blinds and you can almost hear the wolves howling in the snow.
Review from The Huffington Post
The jig that is Sting's 'Soul Cake' reintroduces us to the traditional holiday perennial that Peter, Paul & Mary once immortalized with an insight into melancholy that the trio's brooding version never communicated. That's not surprising since almost all of the the music presented on 'If On A Winter's Night...' is as warm and loving as Bob Cratchitt's Christmas home. Hearing Sting and his entourage embrace mostly English folk traddies should make one wonder why he's never done this before. Filling like mead, its authenticity makes some of Sting's more calculated works seem thin, with even the drunken revisit of his original 'The Hounds Of Winter' and the touching 'Lullaby For An Anxious Child' - the latter co-written with the artist's long-term guitarist, Dominic Miller - rising above many of his recent recordings. Sting's occasional regional affectations and thick-throated vocals for the more classical pieces sound very comfortable on tracks such as 'Cold Song' and 'You Only Cross My Mind In Winter', and, overall, the artist's voice is tempered by an acoustic ensemble that includes Miller, harpist Mary Macmaster, cellist Vincent SÃ©gal, bassist Ira Coleman, guitarist David Mansfield, fiddle-player Kathryn Tickel, and Julian Sutton on melodeon. In many ways, 'If On A Winter's Night...' is a return to Sting's genetic roots, and it's his most natural sounding release in years.
Review from iTunes
Most performers looking to join in the seasonal music market sing well known Christmas Carols and familiar wintertime fare. Fittingly, Sting does not bow down to Santa Claus and wish everyone a holly, jolly Christmas, but rather finds solace in a more solemn approach. Sting's traditional are not the usual. Coupled with classical producer Robert Sadin, Sting puts his own serious delivery to the haunting crawl of 'Gabriel's Message', the sonorous snowcaps of the Newcastle, England traditional 'The Snow It Melts The Soonest' and the smoothly but sparsely rhythmic 15th Century Marian hymn 'There Is No Rose of Such Virtue'. For Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Christmas at Sea', Sting adapts a darker, deeper, throaty delivery. This is many miles north of anything he performed with The Police. Sting wrote three songs for the occasion: the surprisingly pop-like 'The Hounds of Winter' and co-writes on 'Lullaby For An Anxious Child' with Dominic Miller and the album's closer, 'You Only Cross My Mind In Winter' with music by J.S. Bach. Not your traditional album of egg-nogged cheer, but a thoughtful, well-executed piece of seasonal music.
Review from St. Petersburg Times
As rock fans well know, there are two kinds of Sting. There's sexy, swaggering Police Sting. Then there's lute-hugging Renaissance Festival Sting. If you're wondering which Sting shows up on this 15-tracker, let it be known that one song, 'The Burning Babe', is a poem by a 16th century English Jesuit martyr. Yikes, somebody hide the plastic party forks! This is bleak stuff, performed via harps and harmoniums and presumably recorded in a Gothic stone fortress of sadness. And yet Sting's definition of Christmas - "a period of intense loneliness and alienation" - makes these delicate shanties and carols mesmerizing and fresh. In a strange way, it might help you survive the holidays. GRADE: A
Review from People
After getting his rock mojo back with the Police reunion, Sting, ever the Renaissance man, shifts to more esoteric pursuits. If on a Winter's Night ..., inspired by the Englishman's favorite season, features traditional music of the British Isles. Like 2006's Songs from the Labyrinth, the disc gives Sting a chance to show off his classical side. This is evocative mood music perfect for chilling out by the fireplace, especially during the holidays (although there are only fleeting references to Christmas). By the time it's all over, though, you may find yourself needing a jolt of the Police's Outlandos d'Amour.
Review from The Boston Globe by Sarah Rodman
Sting relishes a bleak and beautiful season...
Sting eschews the conventional approach to holiday releases - slap dash versions of jingle bell-dressed carols and reverential hymns-with-strings - with this shivery homage to the season of icicles and introspection. In the liner notes he explains that the snowy season is his favorite, calling it "both bleak and profoundly beautiful." He expertly captures that mood on this mix of traditional songs, lullabies, hymns, and a pair of originals. The ultra-tasteful arrangements trot the globe from Gaelic revelry to Middle Eastern rhythms. The upbeat, bluegrass-tinged "Soul Cake" offers pleasant Dickensian undertones in the poverty-stricken-yet-jolly lyrics. The melancholic "Christmas at Sea" finds Sting setting a Robert Louis Stevenson poem to windswept music. He recasts the midtempo pop song "The Hounds of Winter" from his "Mercury Falling" album with layers of bass clarinet, melodeon, and cello into a ballad of exquisite wistfulness. As is the simple voice and guitar arrangement of "The Snow It Melts the Soonest," with Sting exploring a ragged part of his voice perfect for the tune's mournful tone. The disc absolutely veers into stuffy corners, thick with overemphasized, Sting-ian portent, notably on the mannered spoken word passages of "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming." And the more contemporary energy of a tune like "The Burning Babe" doesn't mesh as well with its throwback peers. But mostly, with its wintry hush and flurries of harmonies, the album evokes the title, a not unpleasant vision of contemplatively gazing out a window encrusted with frost in a thick Irish wool sweater drinking a steaming cup of cider. Essential: "The Snow It Melts the Soonest"
Review from The Sunday Business Post (Ireland)
With the Police reunion now out of his system, the newly-bearded Sting has returned to the recording studio with a rather more personal project. If On A Winter's Night is an album of traditional British music inspired by his favourite season, made up of lullabies, carols and folk songs spanning five centuries. As an antidote to the ersatz jollity of Christmas, it works a treat - the prevailing mood is one of darkness and introspection, with poems by John Dryden and Robert Louis Stevenson lending it a suitably highbrow air. And while the inclusion of two of his own compositions confirms that Sting still has an irritatingly high opinion of himself, at least they're a lot more engaging than the dreary AOR he's so often peddled in the past. Probably his least Sting-like album ever - and, paradoxically, one of his best. ****
Review from The Hollywood Reporter by Roger Friedman
All the tracks on "If On A Winter's Night" are exceptional, rethought Christmas-type tales that make you want to put on the CD, pour some wine, and get into the holiday mood. But this one, and 'Christmas at Sea', Sting's take on Robert Louis Stevenson, are examples of how this musician continues to grow and experiment successfully. Sting's intrepid musicianship, his willingness to explore and expand, is quite frankly missing from the current generation of "rock stars." They should take a lesson from people like him, Paul Simon, and David Byrne. Last month, Sting and his band recorded 'If On A Winter's Night' live at Durham Cathedral in Britain. The DVD gets released on November 23rd, and three days later, on Thanksgiving, the whole concert plays on PBS's "Great Performances" across the country. Sting also turns up next Thursday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows as the special guest of Stevie Wonder.
Review from Sting.com by Dave & Wendy
Weaving through all the songs on Sting's latest album "If On A Winter's Night..." are the themes of winter, ghosts and spirits, religion and the pull of home back to loved and missed ones. The musicians and singers complement the songs impeccably - the Northumbrian pipes of Kathryn Tickell are so evocative of the the northeast and are an instant reminder to older fans of his classic 1991 album "The Soul Cages", an album that drew heavily on his roots. Standout tracks include "Christmas At Sea", a poem written by Robert Louis Stevenson that is combined with the gaelic song "Thograinn Thograinn" and provides one of the most evocative songs that Sting has recorded. "Soul Cake" is a very catchy song that is guaranteed to etch its way into your subconscious after the first listen and is the most immediate track on the album; "The Snow It Melts The Soonest" is a hauntingly beautiful northumbrian track; "The Burning Babe" contrasts a macabre tale with a jolly tune to great effect, and Sting combines his own lyrics to a piece of Bach on the melancholic "You Only Cross My Mind In Winter". Taken with traditional Christmas songs such as "Gabriel's Message" and the "Cherry Tree Carol", some reworkings of older songs such as "The Hounds of Winter" and "Lullaby To An Anxious Child", and more obscure pieces from centuries past such as "Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming" and "Now Winter Comes Slowly" means that Sting delivers a thoughtful and beautifully judged seasonally themed album without once having to mention reindeer, snowmen or Santa Claus.
Dominic Miller (guitar), Kathryn Tickell (fiddle and Northumbrian pipes) Julian Sutton (melodeon) and Mary MacMaster (metal string Scottish harp), along with Daniel Hope (violin), Vincent Ségal (cello), Chris Botti and Ibrahim Maalouf, (trumpet), Cyro Baptista and Bijan Chemirani (percussion), the Webb Sisters (vocals) and Stile Antico (vocal ensemble).