LeAnn Rimes Unwraps Christmas Classics

One Christmas -- Chapter 1 Is the First of Three Holiday EPs

With One Christmas — Chapter 1, the first of three annual holiday EPs, LeAnn Rimes confronts a familiar problem for vocalists — how to add something fresh to an already-crowded field.

“These EPs are kind of challenging,” said Rimes. “Just to find songs that haven’t been overdone and, if they have, figuring out a way to make them interesting and new like no one else has done. It’s definitely a challenge, but I like it. It’s fun to change the melodies to ‘Silent Night.’”

She ultimately chose six songs for the first project. Some are familiar and some lesser-known, like “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

Rimes’ One Christmas tour kicks off Dec. 5 in Rutland, Vermont, and hits 10 cities before wrapping up in Windsor, Ontario. Plus, she’ll perform Wednesday (Dec. 3) in New York City for the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center.

During a visit to the CMT offices, Rimes spoke about her “three full years” of Christmas and why she almost refused to sing “Blue Christmas.”

CMT.com: The old joke is that it’s hard to get in the Christmas spirit when you’re recording in the middle of summer, so people decorate their studios. I’ve always wondered if that’s really true.

Rimes: Yeah, they really do. It’s fun. I mean, I love the holiday season, but I might be sick of it by the time I get done with all of these EPs over the next three years. (laughs) I do love the holidays, but it’ll be Christmas for the next three full years for me.

Where did the idea to do three Christmas records in a row come from?

It just came from the fact that I like Christmas and the last Christmas album I did was years ago. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. (laughs) The idea came about in February, and most Christmas albums need to be in the studio by then. So, we didn’t just throw it together, but we definitely had to move quicker. It was just kind of my idea, and I’ve been wanting to do some Christmas music again.

Your voice has always been described as classic-sounding. Do you think it’s well suited for Christmas music?

I think so. I mean, personally, in new Christmas music, I kind of miss that classic sound. All my favorite Christmas songs feel very approachable and they have an ease to them that I wanted to bring to this record. Not make everything so slick.

Christmas songs are made to be sung by families in their home, right? Not necessarily professionals.

Totally. Usually we have a big Christmas party and my friend Darrell Brown, who produced the record with me, will end up around the piano or somebody will be playing guitar, and that’s kind of the feeling we wanted to bring to this. … I wanted to maybe put a little of the dirty South, organic nature into it, but still have some guts to it.

How did you put your own spin on “Silent Night”?

I wanted to play around with my voice, parts of it that I haven’t used before. We started singing different melodies and recorded it all, and some of it absolutely did not work. I told my husband, “We rewrote ‘Silent Night.’” He’s like, “Huh? That sounds so weird.” I’m like, “No, no, no. It still sounds like ‘Silent Night.’” It was really interesting and took some time. It’s one of those songs that everybody has done, so we had to think long and hard about what to do. I still feel like you definitely know it’s “Silent Night.”

I have personally never heard “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.”

A lot of people haven’t.

So where did you find it?

Gayla Peevey did the original version, and it’s one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. But because she was just a kid and her voice was so quirky, we wanted to take the track and kind of flip it. So instead of making the voice what’s so interesting about it, we wanted to make the track more quirky and fun. And I love it. It’s so happy. It’s so fun and it gets stuck in your head every time. You just mention the title and it comes to mind.

What do you think is the key to singing “Blue Christmas”? I mean, no one will ever be able to take it away from Elvis Presley.

Actually, I fought so hard not to record that song because anything that had to do with “blue” was like, “I can’t be associated with this color for the rest of my life.” (laughs) So, I’ve gotten over that now.

We started playing around with just me and a guitar to take the swing out of it and really put the sadness back into it. When Elvis sings it, it doesn’t really sound sad. It sounds sexy. But I want to take and bring that other side out of it.

So many interesting names have covered “Someday on Christmas,” everybody from Stevie Wonder to Pearl Jam. What did you add to it?

Stevie’s version is what I’ve listened to mostly, and I love the message of that song. I think it’s an important message right now.

What is that message?

Gosh, it goes back to the whole John Lennon feeling of peace and hoping that actually still exists. It’s really kind of sad that a lot of people don’t feel that there’s hope for that anymore. I think that what I love about Christmas and Christmas music is creating that feeling — the feeling of warmth and family and hope for a new year.

Writer/producer for CMT.com and CMT Edge. He's been to Georgia on a fast train. He wasn't born no yesterday.