Every year in November and December, the market is flooded with English-language Christmas albums -- many of them dominated by Christmas pop standards that were written in the United States in the 20th century, although some of the older European yuletide carols such as "Silent Night" and "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentleman" continue to be recorded. But Christmas music isn't strictly an English-language phenomenon -- and there is a long tradition of Spanish-language Christmas songs in Spain and Latin America. The Bay Area-based Juanita Ulloa celebrates that tradition of canciones navideñas on Paz y Alegria (Peace and Joy), which contains some lyrics in English but is mostly en español. Stylistically, this unpredictable effort is not easy to pin down. Paz y Alegria is dominated by Latin music, but of course, the term Latin music means a wide variety of things -- Lupillo Rivera's banda and Olga Tañon's merengue (just to give two examples) are both Latin, but those two artists don't sound anything alike. And on this 42-minute CD, Ulloa's influences range from Mexican on the mariachi-flavored "Canto a la Paz" and the norteño-tinged "Noche Inmortal" to Andean/South American on "A la Medianoche" and the hypnotic "Fum Fum Fum." Ulloa moves into tango-ish territory on "Ocho Kandelikas," while "Campana Sobre Campana" has an Afro-Caribbean flavor that is somewhere between reggae and merengue (with a touch of West African pop). Ulloa has no problem singing in perfect English on the smoky (in an ironic way) and cabaret-minded "Surabaya Santa" -- the Californian is totally bilingual -- but again, Spanish is Paz y Alegria's primary language. And it's a language that serves Ulloa well on this these canciones navideñas.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson