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Sting - Songs From The Labyrinth

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Songs From The Labyrinth

Sting

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Casual pronouncements are made every so often that the lute songs (the lute is a plucked stringed instrument, an early cousin to the guitar) and madrigals of Elizabethan and Jacobean England were the popular music of their day. And Sting, who alludes to the likes of Vladimir Nabokov in his lyrics, is hardly uneducated in the legacy of fine arts, and he has a certain cerebral, inward sadness that matches the dominant mood of English music around 1600 well enough. Thus some might easily have thought it would be a short leap from Sting's own music to the lute songs of John Dowland (1563-1626). But the leap is anything but short, and Sting gets credit for having thought out fully the problems in making it. It is not just the issue of what pianist Katia Labèque, one of the classical musicians who introduced Sting to Dowland's music, called his "unschooled tenor" -- Dowland's songs are not really difficult. It is the great divide between rock (and other traditions ultimately rooted in Africa) and the European tradition: speaking in generalities, the former prizes "noise" -- sound extraneous to the pitch and to the intended timbre of an instrument or voice -- as a structural element, whereas in the latter it is strenuously eliminated. Sting's voice has plenty of "noise." The listener oriented toward classical music will object to its being there; the rock listener, noting that Sting is singing very quietly, may wonder why there isn't more of it. Why, then, does this album work well on the whole? The short answer is that Sting took 20 years to think about how to interpret the refined melancholy of Dowland songs like Come, heavy sleep. His booklet notes tell the long story of how he happened to make this album, and it's quite an interesting one, involving a "labyrinth" of encounters with Labèque, with the Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov who performs on this album, with a friend who gave Sting a lute inlaid with a labyrinth design based on a pattern in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France (Sting later reproduced the maze in his garden at home), and finally with a Swiss voice teacher who schooled him in pitch precision and the occasional octave run. Sting constructs two crossover points between this temporally remote music and his popular audience. First, he intersperses the songs with selections from Dowland's letters. This has surely been done before, at Elizabethan dinners and the like, and for modern listeners it has the beneficial effect of situating Dowland's music at the center of the social and political life of its time. Sting's second crossover point is more radical: he replaces the melody line in a few of Dowland's verses with multitracked harmonies, apparently consisting entirely of his own voice. These sections appear rather randomly, but they do break up the texture in a way that suggests an additional dimension of modern perspective. Sting passes a key test for vocal music of any kind: he understands and means what he is singing. The real gloomfests among Dowland's songs -- like Flow my tears and the final In darkness let me dwell -- lose none of their power in Sting's performances. And he brings something of his own sense of humor to the lighter ones; a certain smirk in his reading of Come again suggests that he is aware an audience of Dowland's time would have heard the line "To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die with thee again" as a sexual allusion. He sounds like himself, even while purging rock's blues-based treatment of pitch from his singing; he also takes a few turns on the large archlute. And Karamazov proves an ideal collaborator, creating a sharp, edgy tone that stands up to Sting's rough voice. In making Dowland's songs his own, Sting has accomplished something that really has never been done before, and perhaps he'll show some of his own fans that Renaissance music is more than an accompaniment for silly jousting competitions -- it is a labyrinth that leads us toward the roots of our own culture.
© TiVo

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Songs From The Labyrinth

Sting

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Walsingham (John Dowland)

1
Walsingham
Kipper Eldridge
00:00:38

Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Can she excuse my wrongs? (John Dowland)

2
Can She Excuse My Wrongs?
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:35

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Ryght honorable : as I have bin most bounde unto your honor... (John Dowland)

3
"Ryght Honorable: As I Have Bin Most Bounde Unto Your Honor..."
Kipper Eldridge
00:00:40

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Flow my tears (John Dowland)

4
Flow My Tears
Kipper Eldridge
00:04:42

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Have you seen the bright lily grow (Robert Johnson)

5
Have You Seen The Bright Lily Grow
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:35

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Then in time passing one Mr. Johnson died... (John Dowland)

6
"...Then In Time Passing One Mr. Johnson Died..."
Kipper Eldridge
00:00:32

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

The most high and mighty christianus the forth, king of Denmark, his galliard (John Dowland)

7
The Most High And Mighty Christianus The Forth, King Of Denmark, His Galliard
Kipper Eldridge
00:03:01

Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

The lowest trees have tops (John Dowland)

8
The Lowest Trees Have Tops
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:16

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

And accordinge as I desired ther cam a letter... (John Dowland)

9
"...And Accordinge As I Desired Ther Cam A Letter..."
Sting
00:00:55

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Fine knacks for ladies (John Dowland)

10
Fine Knacks For Ladies
Kipper Eldridge
00:01:50

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

From thence I went to the landgrave of Hessen... (John Dowland)

11
"...From Thence I Went To The Landgrave Of Hessen..."
Kipper Eldridge
00:00:24

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Fantaisie pour luth (John Dowland)

12
Fantasy
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:42

Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Come heavy sleep (John Dowland)

13
Come Heavy Sleep
Kipper Eldridge
00:03:45

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Forlorn Hope Fancy (John Dowland)

14
Forlorn Hope Fancy
Kipper Eldridge
00:03:07

Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

And from thence I had great desire to see Italy... (John Dowland)

15
"...And From Thence I Had Great Desire To See Italy..."
Sting
00:00:28

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Come again (John Dowland)

16
Come Again
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:56

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Wilt thou unkind thus reave me? (John Dowland)

17
Wilt Thou Unkind Thus Reave Me
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:40

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

After my departure I caled to mynde our conference... (John Dowland)

18
"...After My Departure I Caled To Mynde Our Conference..."
Kipper Eldridge
00:00:29

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Weep you no more, sad fountains (John Dowland)

19
Weep You No More, Sad Fountains
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:38

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

My Lord Willoughby's welcome home (John Dowland)

20
My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home
Sting
00:01:34

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Clear or cloudy (John Dowland)

21
Clear Or Cloudy
Kipper Eldridge
00:02:47

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Men say that the Kinge of Spain is making gret preparation... (John Dowland)

22
"...Men Say That The Kinge Of Spain Is Making Gret Preparation..."
Kipper Eldridge
00:01:01

Sting, voix

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

In darkness let me dwell (John Dowland)

23
In Darkness Let Me Dwell
Kipper Eldridge
00:04:10

Sting, voix - Edin Karamazov, luth

℗ 2006 UMG Recordings, Inc.

Album Description

Casual pronouncements are made every so often that the lute songs (the lute is a plucked stringed instrument, an early cousin to the guitar) and madrigals of Elizabethan and Jacobean England were the popular music of their day. And Sting, who alludes to the likes of Vladimir Nabokov in his lyrics, is hardly uneducated in the legacy of fine arts, and he has a certain cerebral, inward sadness that matches the dominant mood of English music around 1600 well enough. Thus some might easily have thought it would be a short leap from Sting's own music to the lute songs of John Dowland (1563-1626). But the leap is anything but short, and Sting gets credit for having thought out fully the problems in making it. It is not just the issue of what pianist Katia Labèque, one of the classical musicians who introduced Sting to Dowland's music, called his "unschooled tenor" -- Dowland's songs are not really difficult. It is the great divide between rock (and other traditions ultimately rooted in Africa) and the European tradition: speaking in generalities, the former prizes "noise" -- sound extraneous to the pitch and to the intended timbre of an instrument or voice -- as a structural element, whereas in the latter it is strenuously eliminated. Sting's voice has plenty of "noise." The listener oriented toward classical music will object to its being there; the rock listener, noting that Sting is singing very quietly, may wonder why there isn't more of it. Why, then, does this album work well on the whole? The short answer is that Sting took 20 years to think about how to interpret the refined melancholy of Dowland songs like Come, heavy sleep. His booklet notes tell the long story of how he happened to make this album, and it's quite an interesting one, involving a "labyrinth" of encounters with Labèque, with the Bosnian lutenist Edin Karamazov who performs on this album, with a friend who gave Sting a lute inlaid with a labyrinth design based on a pattern in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France (Sting later reproduced the maze in his garden at home), and finally with a Swiss voice teacher who schooled him in pitch precision and the occasional octave run. Sting constructs two crossover points between this temporally remote music and his popular audience. First, he intersperses the songs with selections from Dowland's letters. This has surely been done before, at Elizabethan dinners and the like, and for modern listeners it has the beneficial effect of situating Dowland's music at the center of the social and political life of its time. Sting's second crossover point is more radical: he replaces the melody line in a few of Dowland's verses with multitracked harmonies, apparently consisting entirely of his own voice. These sections appear rather randomly, but they do break up the texture in a way that suggests an additional dimension of modern perspective. Sting passes a key test for vocal music of any kind: he understands and means what he is singing. The real gloomfests among Dowland's songs -- like Flow my tears and the final In darkness let me dwell -- lose none of their power in Sting's performances. And he brings something of his own sense of humor to the lighter ones; a certain smirk in his reading of Come again suggests that he is aware an audience of Dowland's time would have heard the line "To see, to hear, to touch, to kiss, to die with thee again" as a sexual allusion. He sounds like himself, even while purging rock's blues-based treatment of pitch from his singing; he also takes a few turns on the large archlute. And Karamazov proves an ideal collaborator, creating a sharp, edgy tone that stands up to Sting's rough voice. In making Dowland's songs his own, Sting has accomplished something that really has never been done before, and perhaps he'll show some of his own fans that Renaissance music is more than an accompaniment for silly jousting competitions -- it is a labyrinth that leads us toward the roots of our own culture.
© TiVo

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