Thursday, January 14, 2010

Music Notes -- If On A Winter's Night...

One might be tempted to call Sting's If On A Winter's Night... an agnostic's Christmas album, and that isn't far off. However, the project is more of a celebration, in general, of the season of Winter itself, with a few Christmas themed songs as part of the mix. Songs from the Labyrinth drew mostly from the songs of John Dowland, this disc is contains a variety of places and settings for its material, though most of them appear to be ancient. It is listed as a pop album, but it is really more classical.

I enjoyed the two songs based on the metaphor of Christ as a rose, "There is No Rose of Such Virtue" and "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," as well as the two opening songs "Gabriel's Message" and "Soul Cake." The opening tunes were catchy and set the theme of the project nicely. I also like Sting's own "The Hounds of Winter." But my favorite tune is "The Burning Babe," a poem by mystic Robert Southwell set to music by Chris Wood. In a stirring anthem, Sting sings of a vision of the baby Jesus who also came to die. Despite the unusual images and theme, this is also one of the most accessible songs on the album.

Sting writes some interesting liner notes for If On A Winter's Night.... Much of these revolve around the recording itself, but he also provides some background on many of the tunes. He also is sure to distance himself from some of the traditions surrounding a few of the songs He may not have needed to do the latter. The songs, like all good music, speak for themselves just fine.

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