Azar Dagher, the head of Maryland-based Fetal Records, is releasing a 21-song-long Christmas and winter-themed compilation album entitled A Colorful Christmas that challenges and changes the expectations of what a ‘various artists’ Christmas album is all about. The album features the record label’s artists performing original songs and covers across the blues, spiritual, singer-songwriter, reggae (and more!) genres, presenting a diverse array of musical styles and moods. The aural mix is eclectic to say the least, but contains some entertaining and interesting tunes.
Fetal Records started out as a punk and hardcore record label, but has since segued into promoting the blues genre. Various artists from the label collaborated on A Colorful Christmas, including bluesman and harp player Charlie Sayles, Scott Taylor who sings in the blues band Electrofied, guitarist Tony Fazio, and drummer Greg Phillips. Scott Taylor sing-talks soulfully on reggae versions of the traditional numbers “The First Noel” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. Blues guitar licks run through the lyrically insightful “Homeless Christmas” with Taylor again in the spotlight.
Charlie Sayles sings in a trembling, warm tone amid brushed drums and mellifluous guitars on “Angles We Have Heard On High”. Sayles’ deeply worn, but emotionally delicate vocals grace “Silent Night” while being backed by acoustic guitar, a light brushed drums, and occasional female vocals. Tony Fazio is at the forefront of several numbers on the album, including the sultry, slow-groove blues of “A Christmas Blues”, the harmonica-infused strut of “It’s Not The Present”, and the reflective, guitar-based instrumental “Greensleeves”.
A highlight of the album comes in the form of Run Little Elephant’s “Peppermint Milkshake” with its upbeat pace, horn toots, bouncing drum beats, syncopated percussion, retro female vocals, and cute lyrics that cram in all that’s good for Christmas kiddie gifts like the vintage, yet still current Star Wars, Legos, bubblegum, and Marvel Comics. Sinuous Middle Eastern touches, flute, and deep vocals from Richard Schletty figure on “O Star of Mystery” while woodwind, tambourine, and the airy vocals of Matilda Jane Kraemer glide through “Children’s Christmas”.
The singer-songwriter genre is covered with the brisk acoustic guitars and earnest vocals of Braver Noise (featuring Ken Wenzel) on “The Curious Christmas Boy”. Traditional songs that are more solemnly delivered in the classical style appear during the second half of the album, including the sung-in-Italian “Duerme Nino Duerme” from Christopher and Richard Schletty, featuring Andre Van Haren. Its English language version, “Sleep Baby Sleep”, follows and it’s interesting to hear Van Haren’s tonal differences between the two tracks.
Symphonic strings and contemplative guitar and vocals flow gently through “Child of Eternal Love” from Richard Schletty. A Colorful Christmas wraps up with the uplifting, swinging blues of “Christmas Spirit” replete with jaunty piano and drums, sporadic cymbals scintillation, and Tony Fazio getting into it as he sings “Cause now that you’re home and here in my arms / The blues, baby, the blues can do me no harm.”