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185 of 188 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strange, beguiling and rewarding collection...
The first thing I will say is that this is the first Sting album I have ever brought (or owned, copied, let in the house...). So I don't come to it with any baggage of claiming to be a fan. I think some previous reviews here suffer from assuming that this is a straight pop album. Its not. The Deutche Gramophon label should be your guide.

I was intrigued enough...
Published on 2 Nov 2009 by Mr. C. Davis

versus
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the bollxcs
I heard this album and was pleasantly surprised. In fact it's really good if you like folky, wintry, largely melancholy music. However having seen the BBC2 programme about it the other night I can't help thinking it's not as good as Sting clearly thinks it is. I'd heard that he's a bit `up himself' but blimey! In fact ... and this surprised me ... it rather put me...
Published on 30 Dec 2009 by Amazon Customer


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185 of 188 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A strange, beguiling and rewarding collection..., 2 Nov 2009
This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
The first thing I will say is that this is the first Sting album I have ever brought (or owned, copied, let in the house...). So I don't come to it with any baggage of claiming to be a fan. I think some previous reviews here suffer from assuming that this is a straight pop album. Its not. The Deutche Gramophon label should be your guide.

I was intrigued enough to buy it as an intrest in folk and classical music puts this right up my street. I have also had a strong intrest in winter / Christmas too. By which I don't mean Wizzard / Slade. Anyway.

There is much to intrigue here. At 50 minutes running time, the album covers a lot of ground, and repeat listens will reveal lots of subtle parts you may miss first time round. There is old English folk songs, poems sung and set to music. Sting covers five centuries of music, but blends it all together beautifully. If you want a winter album to soundtrack the party season, forget it. If you don't want to try something new, learn about something outside the usual pop/rock mainstream, or widen your horizons, move on. But if you do appreciate musicians playing really well as individuals and together, an education and entertainment, this is for you. If you want something to soundtrack dark nights and reflection on the passing year as you sit by the fire with your favorite tipple as the lights flicker across the walls, take a chance and invest in this. I suspect as winter rolls around year on year, this will make repeat appearences on the stereo. It certainly has me researching further some of the origianal inspirations for the tracks. Which is what great music should do. Lead you on to even more...It's not an easy listen at times. Not all the tracks have a hummable melody or toe-tapping rhythm. Most are slow and take time to unfurl. You will need to pay attention, but its a grower. Its rewarding. Good things come to those who wait.
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71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and beautifully judged winter album..., 20 Oct 2009
By 
D. Dunn "wendavey" (Stockton, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. Stand out 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.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sting in these tales, 3 Nov 2009
By 
EuroBee (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
I don't know about you but, for me, one of the problems with a lot of music these days is the obsession with churning out more or less the same album time after time after time. For a vast majority of acts today, you know exactly what their next album will sound like. In the good old days, by contrast, one of the great joys of following a particular band or singer was not knowing exactly what they would come up with next. Sometimes it would work - sometimes it wouldn't. But it would always be enthralling to watch their 'journey'.

So I'm delighted that Sting has come from left-field again with "If On A Winter's Night...". Even better than that, he's produced what is (to my ears) a convincing, successful album of folky, wintertide tales and tunes that work extremely well as a collective, yet also furnish him with enough latitude to experiment with different vocal styles, introduce unfamiliar melodies (as on this version of the seasonal 'standard' "Gabriel's Message") and interweave a range of musical approaches (as on the excellent, jazz-tinged "The Burning Babe"). Sting's always been a master of musical fusion and this album is no different. And as a Warlock/Schubert fan, I'm delighted to see examples of their work slotting neatly into this superbly reflective, understated, bitter-sweet collection.

Stand-outs for me include "The Hurdy-Gurdy Man", "Soul Cake", "The Hounds of Winter" and "The Snow It Melts The Soonest". But the truth is that Sting puts his indelible stamp on all the songs.

So what next, Sting? Wait - don't tell me! Surprise me. Again!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Give it time., 27 Dec 2009
By 
Geoffrey Plow - See all my reviews
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
As so many others have said, this record is a bit of a slow burner. When you first put it on, you may find yourself baulking at the Christmassy references lurking in the songs. Why (you may ask) was Sting so irritable with the record company for suggesting that he record a 'Christmas Album'? Hasn't he partly done just that?

You may also get a trifle irritated at the warbled 'serious singing voice' Sting has adopted on one or two of the tracks. You may even wonder to yourself whether they have bright Christmas lights, warming Glühwein, skating rinks, central heating and Yule logs in any place Sting happens to spend the festive season. It can't all be deep gloom in Winter, can it?

But a few listens will put you right. The Christmas references are in there because most of us have inevitably absorbed such things into our bloodstream even if we don't believe the whole account the carols and writings offer; they're part of our cultural landscape, if not our religious or spiritual one. And they are accompanied by the kind of reflective, unshowy music which suits precisely the period during which I write this: between Christmas and New Year.

I suspect the record will get a lot of plays in January and February too, as it is not a Christmas bauble. Suffice to say that this CD is something of a surprise.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Where the Sum Is Greater than Its Parts, 31 Mar 2010
By 
Nicholas Casley (Plymouth, Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
I am giving this disc a rare five stars, largely because it is an example of where the sum is more than its parts. Despite reservations on the initial play, I thoroughly warmed to the selection on each subsequent playing. Sure, there is often a disappointment to be had in Sting's voice - sometimes making you wince - but the intimacy and the imagination of the arrangements are warming.

Indeed, for a winter album, the opening is warm with the soft trumpet playing of Ibrahim Maalouf, but the harmonic vocal changes at the song's end gives an inkling of the little gems that litter this collection. The first track is called `Gabriel's Message' and might give an indication of explicit religiosity throughout the album. But there are only five songs that carry this connotation, and Sting makes plain in the fulsome accompanying booklet that instead the Christian story "and the older traditions of the winter solstice ... are our common cultural heritage, and as such need to be kept alive through reinterpretation within the context of contemporary thinking, even if that thinking is essentially agnostic." The only sound of a Christmas carol is that of `God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen' played high above the song `Soul Cake'.

I have mentioned the problem with Sting's voice. On `Cold Song', one laments its presence, but when you read the lyrics one judges how well his interpretation fits. Equally, his voice on `The Snow It Melts the Soonest' is a voice with possibilities, but also one that is honest. The instrumental accompaniment is sometimes minimal, sometimes a crowd, with some fantastic seasoned musicians. The highlights for me are the strings in the atmospheric `Now Winter Comes Slowly' that successfully convey the cold, and equally the voices in the spine-tingling `Bulalalow'.

The songs are very well chosen and vary from the traditional to the modern, via such diverse composers as Praetorius, Purcell, Bach, Schubert, and Warlock. Sting includes a version of `The Hounds of Winter', whose interesting alternative arrangement makes the passionate lament more subtle. The only song on the album I would skip is the `Cherry Tree Carol', simply because its lack of modulation lends itself to boredom.

This is not a Sting album; it is an album about winter, so for those expecting something similar to the usual Sting album might be disappointed - or, like me, you might be charmed. It is far better than the reviews it received, probably because it relies on more than one listening. I will certainly pull it out of the collection for playing every winter.

So, Sting, when's the spring album due?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spiritual, beautiful, sensational!, 9 Feb 2010
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When I first found out that Sting was doing a winter album I was pretty sceptical. I didn't think it was a good idea to change from his style of song writing and songs to do covers of seasonal songs. I read an account of his thoughts on winter and the project on his website, which is the exact same one which is in the booklet, and I could see that he was passionate and serious about this album and the season that it's associated with. I felt a lot more at ease about this new venture and that this experiment might be a good change. Sting obviously took a big risk with recording this album and it's on a different music label than his other albums. The original idea was for Sting to do a Christmas album, but Sting being a bit of a sceptic on Christmas songs suggested that he'd rather do a winter album. This isn't just another Sting album, it's a seasonal special album, and that's why it must be set apart from comparing it to his other efforts. By all means bare in mind his previous work but that has nothing to do with this record because it is a concoction of covers of traditional songs with 2 of his own thrown in for good measure. You definitely need an open mind and an appreciation of the season and the history that this music brings with it.

The deluxe edition, which I waited for a month after release, has the CD with 2 bonus tracks and a Bonus DVD. It's presented in a hard back quality book form with slips cases for the discs. There are plenty of photos to get the feel for the creation of the album and there's Sting's very interesting and extensive account on his thoughts and feelings on the project. The account is in 3 languages, French and German as well I think. Then the lyrics are presented in all 3 languages too. The pictures with Sting with a fully grown beard represents how he has matured with age, and I think it takes a mature listener to really understand this album. Sting's appreciation of music is wider than his own untimeless style and his interest spans to music which is very different to what his usual listeners expect from him. Maybe he has different ideas now.

On the first listen I could really appreciate how mellow and beautiful sounding the songs were. You definitely have to appreciate the classical instrumental side of this album and the feeling that comes with that. The only problem was I couldn't work out what the hell Sting was singing about! Once you've listened to the songs while reading the lyrics then you become accustomed to his accent and it becomes an extra feature but it is a big downer when listening to the songs first off. Sting has adopted this Newcastle accent and he achieves the style by hardly opening his mouth when he sings. That's why some of the words seem mispronounced and strange to the listener. He must have chosen to sing in this style to fit in with these old songs and the seasonal period because he has never sung in a Newcastle accent before so he's definitely putting it on for this album.
Gabriel's message is the opener which is a slow and very mellow carol. Soul cake is my favourite song on the album. Sting got a good following for this album off the back of his live performances of this song, and of course his interviews to promote the album. It's catchy and historical being a begging song from the 19th century. The first of 2 Rose songs is my favourite. Both are soft. `Such virtue' being from the 16th century and `Blooming' being from the 18th. `Blooming' has Sting whispering about the bible. The 'Alleluia' from `Such virtue' is inspiring and majestic. In between is The snow it melts the soonest. One of my favourites with just guitar. This was totally an anthem a month ago with the downpour of snow. Christmas at sea is my 2nd favourite. The sound of the harp and that crashing intro's amazing. This song is pretty catchy and draws you in. The choris has Gaelic singing done by Mary Macmaster who brought to Sting a women's working song from the Isle of Skye. Sting fit the lyrics from a poem to this song and put it together. What we have is a masterpiece. Cold song is one of the most depressing song I've ever heard. The burning babe is very upbeat and joyful even if the lyrics aren't. The hounds of winter's been reshaped to a traditional style and is the longest song. Balulalow, a Scottish carol is mellow and nice. Cherry tree carol is beautiful. It tells of Joseph in such a human reaction to gathering cherries for a child which isn't his. Lullaby... is one of my favourites and the 2nd of his own songs. Hurdy-gurdy man is incredibly depressing too but Julian Sutton does such a great job tying in the melodeon. You only cross...is another very soft tune. The 1st of the bonus tracks Bethlehem down is fabulous. The sound is quite beautiful and the lyrics enchanting. Cradle song isn't so great but is a nice ending.

The DVD clocks in at 21:49 with Sting ending on `If I have a spiritual side then it's music. I play and listen to music like it matters to my soul'. You can see that Sting has become wise with age and his reflection on his own musical career has allowed him to be at one with these mysterious and historical songs and this seasonal album. The DVD shows the studio recordings and the process of creating the songs. It's very interesting and helps you understand the album better too. These songs work brilliantly together and if it wasn't for Sting's accent then I would give this 5 stars.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Never mind the bollxcs, 30 Dec 2009
This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
I heard this album and was pleasantly surprised. In fact it's really good if you like folky, wintry, largely melancholy music. However having seen the BBC2 programme about it the other night I can't help thinking it's not as good as Sting clearly thinks it is. I'd heard that he's a bit `up himself' but blimey! In fact ... and this surprised me ... it rather put me off.

It seems that:-

a) He got a bunch of really good musicians together (like most `solo' artists do)
b) Found a load of lovely old songs (like most folk artists do, because it's ... er ... what folk music is)
c) Rehearsed and recorded them in his own house (like many musicians do these days, because modern technology allows this and in many cases, because it's cheaper ... not that it's a concern for Sting, you understand.)

But Sting does all this and somehow it's ground-breaking and brilliant and ... get this ... oh so `organic'. Other insights included that rock musicians play differently from folk musicians who play differently from classical musicians. Well heavens, Mr Sting, that is a surprise.

What this is, is a really nice collection of songs, well played and well sung, and left at that it's really very good. But the fact that 30 or so musicians from all over the world had to come and pitch in at his house in Tuscany does rather detract from the warm, cosy, intimate English feel of the actual music and for me rather spoils it. Like knowing that a favourite band is actually a bunch of session musicians directed by some shipped-in American producer (yes - we have one of those too ... one who came over as such a tosser on the TV that several of the musicians felt it necessary to make excuses for him), it detracts from the experience rather than enhances it.

I'd suggest that you get this and enjoy it, but avoid any TV programmes about it!

4 stars for the music, 1 star for all the rest of it.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars beautiful, 2 Nov 2009
By 
G. Francis "GeorgeB27" (Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
I'm sad to see the bad reviews as this album is beautiful. After Songs from the Labyrinth it would have been nice to have a new 'rock' album from Sting, but nevertheless, this album shows the usual care and attention Sting brings to his music. The traditional songs are anything but pretentious, and I wonder if the reviewers who find them so are just objecting to being educated a little, surely if these are pretentious then so are the Christmas carols we sing every year? The album also includes 'Lullaby for an anxious child' a B side I've been hunting for since I lost my cassette copy of the single it was on - so that's worth it alone!

Sting doesn't need to ever produce any new music every again, and I like to be taken on these little adventures into the past with him every now and again. Bring on Christmas, snow, log fires and all those traditional Christmas carols and now these forgotten winter songs.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very uncomfortable listening if you're a folk music fan!, 12 Nov 2009
By 
D. Koritsas "Debs Koritsas" (Yorkshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
I bought this album because I enjoy and respect the music of the traditional musicians involved (in particular Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton, and Mary Macmaster), and also because I really enjoyed some of Sting's work back in the 80s. I'm always curious to check out mainstream and folk collaborations, because they can and sometimes do serve to highlight the passionate and beautiful work of the UK's finest traditional musicians to an audience who wouldn't ordinarily hear them. There are inevitable occasions when those collaborations simply don't work however, and I think this is one of them. The result is impossible (for me personally, with my background in writing about & photographing the folk scene) to listen to with any degree of pleasure. I still have a couple of Sting albums from years ago, and rated him in the past as a really good pop musician, but this album seems (and feels) like pure self-indulgence. And let's be honest, the album's timing, being released just before Christmas (viz. snowy cover, Sting and trusty dog), does smack of more than a touch of commercialism!

The real problem with this album is Sting's disconcerting vocals. They make for very difficult listening if you come to these songs through a background/love of folk song and traditional music - the songs themselves hold rich appeal for folkies. Most folk singers retain their regional accents, and play their traditional instruments with passion and reverence. Whilst the instrumentation on this album is faultless, sublime even, Sting's mish-mash of accents veers from mid-Atlantic (which strikes me as his safest territory!) through to some kind of rustic Northumbrian burr on a very difficult rendition of 'The Snow it Melts the Soonest.' There's even a touch of Scottish drawl (I think!) in 'Christmas At Sea.' Some of the vocals, especially at his voice's lower register, adopt a very strange intonation, as if Sting is purporting or aspiring to be a singer of sacred songs. It's very uncomfortable listening! I am very interested to hear the views/reactions of people who love traditional music as I do, who've listened to this 'tribute to the tradition' in its entirety. I was so shocked at my response that I did some research into Sting's roots, knowing he was once a canny lad from Wallsend on Tyne. I found a quote attributed to him that both surprised and shocked me: 'I learned to change my accent; in England, your accent identifies you very strongly with a class, and I did not want to be held back.' (He forgot that your accent also links you with roots, your past, where you came from, and that delightful regional uniqueness you find in so much 'real' traditional music). If that quote is correctly attributed, it explains everything that is wrong about this album.

Sting's interest in Northumbrian music is well known (I loved `Fields of Gold' featuring Kathryn Tickell's exquisite Northumbrian pipes) but this recording just doesn't cut the mustard or pay adequate tribute to the rich song tradition of the British Isles. The result sounds like what must surely happen when a very successful musician is able to indulge every whim, without benefit of the honest advice and opinion of colleagues. The vocals don't do justice to the songs at all and I would not recommend it to anyone who seeks authenticity in music. You'll be fine if you're a devoted Sting fan of course. I like to think my CD money went straight into the pockets of the fantastic folk musicians contributing to this album, not into Sting's!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sublime!, 17 Nov 2013
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This review is from: If On A Winter's Night (Gatefold Cover) (Audio CD)
Must admit I've never written a review about anything before but had to about this!

I'm not a Sting or folk music fan & discovered this album by accident after hearing a track on the radio, but have to say it's the most haunting beautiful album I've heard in a long time.
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