13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Very uncomfortable listening if you're a folk music fan!
, 12 Nov. 2009
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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