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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Sting's new album is a glimpse into the heart of winter. It's called "If On a Winter's Night," and it's a collection of mostly traditional and a few modern songs about the season ahead. Now, I wouldn't call it a Christmas album exactly in the sense of Dear Bing-o or Nat King Cole. Songs here remind us of a season that celebrates self-seeking, selfless love, and mystery as much as "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." Consider this song:

(Soundbite of song, �The Burning Babe�)

STING (Singer): (Singing) As I in hoary winter's night stood shivering in the snow, surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow. And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near, a pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear�

SIMON: Sting joins us now (unintelligible). Thanks so much from being with us.

STING: Oh, it's nice to be here, Scott.

SIMON: You really like winter, don't you?

STING: I have a certain affinity with the season. I think it's an undervalued season. For me, it's a season of the imagination, of spirits, of ghosts in the chimney, frost, snow. It had a lot of paradox in it too. It's a season I look forward to. I love the central celebration of it, but also I'm aware that winter's a difficult time for a lot of people.

SIMON: Yeah. And music becomes even a little bit more important sometimes.

STING: I think so. And I think it's the season of reflection. You know, we seem to need the winter to reassess ourselves, to hibernate, if you like, to seek home, to seek comfort. (Unintelligible) cozy, the church, family home.

SIMON: Now, please don't tell me that you go to someplace in Santa Monica for winter.

STING: No. I'm pretty traditional. I go back to my home in England. I live near Stonehenge. I have a 16th century house with a big fire and I try to encourage as many of my kids to come - but they're all, you know, all over the world and grown up now - my dogs and my wife, who's very much a traditional Christmas lady. And we have an English traditional Christmas.

SIMON: Now, you have your guitar there, I'm told.

STING: We do.

SIMON: And you also have Dominick Miller and Ira Coleman, right?

STING: Ira on double bass.

SIMON: I gather they'll be joining you to play one of the songs here.

STING: Yep. It's called "The Snow It Melts the Soonest." It's from the 19th century from the north of England.

(Soundbite of song, �The Snow It Melts the Soonest�)

STING: (Singing) Oh, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing, and the corn it ripens fastest when the frost is settling in. And when a woman tells me my face she'll soon forget. Before we'll part, I'll wage a croon, she's fain to follow it yet.

Oh, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing, and the swallow skims without a thought as long as it is spring. But when spring goes, and winter blows, my lassie you'll be fain. For all your pride, to follow me across the stormy main.

Oh, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing, and the bee that flew when summer shone, in winter cannot sting. I've seen a woman's anger melt betwixt the night and morn. Oh, it's surely not a harder thing to tame a woman's scorn.

Oh, never say me farewell here, no farewell I'll receive. And you shall set me to the stile then kiss and take your leave. I'll stay until the curlew calls and the martlet takes his wing. Oh, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing.

SIMON: Sting, thank you. That was just beautiful.

STING: Thank you.

SIMON: And thanks to Dominick and Ira too. Tell us about this song, how it first came into your life.

STING: I didn't know this song, and I used some musicians from my hometown of New Castle, and during the recording I said do you know any local songs? And they said, well, there's "The Snow That Melts the Soonest." I said I don't know that song. Will you teach me? And in the folk tradition I was taught the song. And it was published in 1821, in a book called �Songs of Northern England,� maybe from the southern borders of Scotland. You know, it's questionable where this song comes from, but it's beautiful.

SIMON: Yeah. It's really startling. I sent the word out that we were going to talk to you and got some questions. Can I try a few questions from our audience?

STING: Sure.

SIMON: Someone who identifies himself just as Calo(ph) says: Ask Sting about his children, Summer in the Limelight(ph), what advice has he given them? Now, you - one of your sons is a musician.

STING: My son is a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and my youngest daughter is a recording artist too. What advice do I give them? It depends what I think they listen to. You know, I'm dad. Sometimes I have a strategy - I'll tell them the opposite of what I want them to do and then they do that. You know, they've watched me as a musician and they watch me practice every day and they know I take my work seriously.

And so I think they've taken that. They have a good work ethic about music. And music is a journey that never quite ends. There's always something new to them. There's always something more and more. You know, it's composition or harmony. It's an endless journey.

SIMON: We have a nice comment from Bruce Flourquist(ph), who says: My twin granddaughters sang in Fields of Gold last week in their high school choir. Thank him for a beautiful song.

STING: Well, that's lovely. Thank you. It's nourishing.

SIMON: Do you hear from people?

STING: I do. I get a lot of nice emails and personal relationships people have with songs and what it means to them and in their lives. And no, that makes me very happy.

SIMON: Can bad reviews get to you?

STING: They can give you a very unpleasant breakfast but it shouldn't disturb your lunch.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: You still playing chess?

STING: Yeah, I do. Dominick and I played a couple of days ago. I won.

SIMON: Well, tell me about - I have read about this - the - was Dominick Miller in this one too? Were there five of you that played Gary Kasparov?

STING: Yeah, we did. We did. We all played Gary. He was blindfolded. He still beat us.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, he beat all five of you, didn't he?

STING: Yeah, he did. He said to me, my job as a chess player is to crush your mind.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STING: And he did.

SIMON: Yeah. After all these years of playing music, performing all over the world, what do you think music sets off in people?

STING: Very strong emotions. People are affected deeply by it, as musicians are too. For me, it's my church. It's the way I connect to the world of spirit. I enjoy being in that church.

SIMON: Sting, thanks so much.

STING: Thank you.

SIMON: Sting, his new album, "If On a Winter's Night."

(Soundbite of song, �Christmas at Sea�)

STING: (Singing) All day we fought the tides between the north�

SIMON: And you can curl up with a nice warm cup-a and hear some of the songs from Sting's latest album, "If On a Winter's Night," on our Web site, NPR.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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