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Songs From The Labyrinth

3.6 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Audio CD (9 Oct. 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Universal Classics
  • ASIN: B000G8OYZS
  • Other Editions: Audio CD  |  Vinyl  |  MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 27,267 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
  • Sample this album Artist - Artist (Sample)
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Product Description

Product Description

Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth is an album of 17th century music originally composed by John Dowland and performed on the lute, an ancient acoustic guitar. After being given a lute nearly two years ago as a gift, Sting became fascinated and immersed himself with the instrument and the history of lute music. Reminded of his almost 25-year long enthrallment with the works of John Dowland, an Elizabethan composer who wrote songs for the lute, Sting has recorded a new album of vocal and lute music. All songs were composed by Dowland in the 17th century, but have been given new life in these fresh new recordings. Sting not only sings all the songs (accompanied by leading lutenist Edin Karamasov, who appears on two Andreas Scholl albums), but also plays lute on two instrumental duets with Edin and reads short extracts from a fascinating autobiographical letter by Dowland. In addition, Sting has written a brilliant account of the album's genesis, along with notes on the individual tracks, which serves as the CD booklet.

BBC Review

It's the same old story: Established, middle aged rock star gets a lute as a present and he's suddenly turning out an album composed of nothing but the lovely sixteenth century tunes of John Dowland; what's more, on a classical label! Songs From The Labyrinth is definitely more of a case of 'show me the lute'...

While Mr Sumner may be stretching the point when he says "He was really the first singer/songwriter we know of, so a lot of us owe our living to this man," it is true that Dowland's work has plenty of modern fans. His most famous song, 'Flow My Tears' was the inspiration for Phillip K Dick's novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, while Elvis Costello has also recorded his works. If it's true that this album will probably not wholly please either Sting fans or those of Early Music, it's also true that music this good is almost impossible to ruin.

The problems arise with Sting's very, well...Stingness. His voice, a marvellously expressive pop tool, is so unmistakeable that its compressed modernity invariably jars with the spacious, warm lute playing of Bosnian, Edin Karamazov. No matter how well he annunciates (and how many Tudor mansions he lives in), he's too recognisable to really take on the mantle of court minstrel. Still, this is far from a failed experiment. His love and understanding of Dowland's work is obvious (though the jury's still out on the rather mannered readings of Dowland's letters between tracks). In the end, if this album introduces a whole new audience to one of the greatest musicians of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras it can only be counted as a good thing. --Chris Jones

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Vinyl
Critics seem to have been sharpening their knives for this release. Certainly the circumstantial case against any rock singer recording a "classical" album for Deutsche Grammophon is pretty strong, as those who remember Elvis Costello's album with Anne Sophie Von Otter will have cause to agree. The fact is, however, that although the songs of John Dowland have been recorded many, many times most of those who attack this album will be basing their complaints on a personal antipathy to Sting rather than any concerns with the actual performance.

Lute duties here are principally handled by Edin Karamazov: not the leading lutanist in this repertoire (that would probably be Anthony Rooley) but perfectly competent in material that is in any case not virtuosic. Dowland's songs do not require outstanding, classically-trained vocals, and Sting's interpretations are perfectly acceptable, with some nice differentiation of style from one song to another. They are also idiomatic, so fans of Sting's rock voice will have to put up with him singing in a mannered (though still fairly light) vocal style.

If you are in the market for a Dowland set, I can't see why you would buy this one, and there is a slight problem created by the introduction of spoken interludes (extracts from Dowland's writings) which spoil the programming slightly. That said, I personally bought this disc for curiosity value, and seen in that light it is well worth the investment.
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Format: Vinyl
From the outset let me say that I have always been a huge fan of Sting, and of John Dowland. But I was unsure that the two could possibly go together. Having listened to the CD several times now, I am still unsure but the idea is growing on me.

Let's face it, Sting is not the world's best vocalist, his breathy nasal voice being well-suited to ska and light jazz, but ultimately tending to be tiresome. The problem is not just his voice, but perhaps more his odd vowel sounds which have always been a little unnatural and that is very obvious here with his voice rather forward in the mix.

So my first thought was that there are many very beautiful renderings of this material by specialists like Ian Partridge and Sting's offering seemed to add nothing to the corpus. In fact, I thought, I could probably sing this stuff better. But that's to fall for the great myth of period music, which is that today's highly trained professional musicians are at all representative of how this music might have been performed in its own day. Of course, they are not. This is music for the 16th century everyman, which would have been sung by minstrels and troubadours, with voices possibly more like Sting's than not. So there's actually a curious authenticity to this.

The lutenist plays with vigour, and whilst technically not the best I've heard, imbues the music with energy and passion. The readings in between songs from Dowland's letters and diaries are interesting, biut somewhat tokenistic. I'd like to have heard far more, or none at all. And the level of the speaking voice is quite low, which means that to actually hear what is said, especially, say, in the car, you have to crank up the volume to the point that the next vocal entry is too loud.

So to the classical purist, this will not satisfy, but to fans of Sting who are perhaps curious about renaissance music, it might be just the ticket. Have a listen and make up your own mind.
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Format: Audio CD
I must admit, being more of a fan of 16th Century music than Sting, I was very much intrigued to hear what a modern rock musician would make of a composer such as Dowland, and having heard his verion of "Come again" twice on the radio and once on the TV, I decided that it was worth getting. In many ways I am what could be referred to as a "classical snob", a believer in trained and authentic performance, but in todays world of classical music where only the flawless performances seem to be worth mentioning, I find it refreshing to hear this music performed by someone with little classical training. When you imagine how popular Dowland was in his own time, it seems fitting that Sting should be singing these songs today, presenting them as they would most likely have been heard back then. And if that doesn't sway you, you only have to read the inlay notes and listen to his clear articulation to see how much Sting respects the old traditions and wanted to do his best (in his own way) for the sake of the music.
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Format: Audio CD
Earlier this year when Sting broke the news that his new project would be an album of Elizabethan-era tunes performed on the lute, it is probably fair to say that it took everyone by surprise. At a time when the course of action for established artists is often the easy option of reaching for the standards catalogue, releasing a live album from the last tour, or of rejoining long-split bands for a nostalgia-fest and a bumper pay day on the road it was somehow deeply refreshing to see Sting instead turn his attention to the works of John Dowland. On reflection however, it should come as no surprise that during a career that has been notable for its unpredictability and occasional side projects like A Soldier's Tale, Peter & the Wolf, and 3 Penny Opera that something interesting and unique was on Sting's mind.

Despite being possibly the world's first singer-songwriter - certainly by our modern understanding of the term - Dowland remains something of an enigma. As an English catholic he understandably felt persecuted in his home country where his religion meant that he would never hold the position of court lutenist to Queen Elizabeth that he both desired and felt his talents deserved. Consequently, he spent much of his time - like his modern day contemporaries - travelling and performing around the courts of Europe where he was accepted and celebrated. During these travels Dowland wrote a celebrated letter to Sir Robert Cecil, the Queen's Secretary of State and extracts from this letter are featured throughout the new album and help to put his music into an historical context.

The comedian John Bird first introduced Sting to Dowland's works in 1982 when the two were involved in the "Secret Policeman's Ball" concerts for Amnesty International.
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