Ruben Romero & Robert Notkoff,
Christmas in Santa Fe
(New Earth, 1999)

Initially, Christmas in Santa Fe appears to be an instrumental Christmas album dressed a particular region's clothing. You know the type -- begin with a regional musical style and put "Christmas" beside it (Reggae Christmas, Salsa Christmas, Country Christmas, Grunge Christmas, and so on). Thankfully, Santa Fe has more originality than that. While deeply immersed in Santa Fe's regional style, Christmas in Santa Fe is a Ruben Romero album first and foremost. The performances by Robert Notkoff and the other instrumentalists are solid, but Romero elevates this album. Yes, this is a Christmas album, but Romero's guitar gives it a distinction above other regional collections.

As expected, most of the album contains new takes on traditional holiday favorites, from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to "The First Noel" and "The Christmas Song." There are also medleys of traditional songs that thankfully cut short tunes that typically suffer from full-length monotony. While these traditional tunes are quite good and well played, the real treats of this album are Romero's original pieces, especially "Fireside Romance" and "Tears of Sorrow Bring Tears of Joy." These songs are authentically Santa Fe, not traditional Christmas tunes with regional trappings. Romero plays his guitar with passion, precision and uncanny speed (at times). "Jingle Bell Rhumba," an original arrangement by Romero, is a fabulously flavored formulation on a holiday favorite. Romero's guitar sizzles throughout the song, to the point that the other instruments are almost left behind.

Individually, all of the tracks on this album are good tunes that can stand on their own; the composition of this album, on the other hand, could be better. Christmas in Santa Fe begins with a warm welcome via a soft and slow rendition of "Silent Night," but their reprise of it at the end detracts from the album's entirety. This is my one small complaint: In what should be the last song, the title track infuses the ears (and possibly the feet) with vivacity and festivity when -- all of a sudden -- you're suddenly back to the stagnant pace of "Silent Night." A major strength of this album is the fluctuating momentum building up to the title track. Instead, Romero and Notkoff take that energy, shelve it and softly send you on your way. Oh, well.

Christmas in Santa Fe is a delightful album that is not completely dependent upon the holidays. Many of these tracks could be enjoyed on July 17 just the same as on Dec. 23. If you are especially fond of guitars, this album is a treat for all the seasons.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 21 December 2002

Buy it from