Having recorded three holiday albums in her career, LeAnn Rimes says it’s not exactly a secret she’s crazy about Christmas. But even when you’re as invested in the yuletide as she is, it can still be tough to craft original holiday tunes — but that’s what she set out to do for this year’s Today Is Christmas.
“I mean, you really are setting out to write, hopefully what is a classic eventually. But I guess we don’t think about that. At the same time, I know it’s kind of in the back of your mind,” she considers. “Both of these songs, ‘Today Is Christmas’ and ‘I Still Believe in Santa Claus,’ came out of kinda personal thoughts and experiences.”
The title track speaks to LeAnn’s wish that everyone could be as nice during the rest of the year as they seem to be around December 25.
“I always feel like everybody is so open and giving at Christmastime a lot more than the rest of the year. It’s always frustrated me. I’m from the South. Everybody’s like, ‘Hey!’, smiling as we walk by and whatever. I don’t find that all the time, everywhere I go,” she contemplates. “So if people could be that open, as they are at Christmastime, every day of the year, how would that make our lives better? ‘Cause I think it definitely would change things.”
Though the idea for “I Believe in Santa Claus” came from a fan, in the end, it helped LeAnn reclaim some of the lost innocence of her childhood.
“A crowd member last year at one of my shows screamed out at the end of a song, randomly, ‘I still believe in Santa Claus!’ and I was like, ‘Great title! Thank you so much!’” she recalls. “It’s kind of ironic because I didn’t grow up with much of a childhood and I think I called my parents out like at four, going, ‘You’re Santa Claus!’ So I never really had that childlike wonder in my life, and as I got older, I felt like I needed it, and to write a song like that was kind of creating it for myself.”
In addition to the new songs she wrote, the country and pop hitmaker also invited some special guests to help her — singer Aloe Blacc and pop-rocker Gavin DeGraw. “Both of their voices are so fantastic and I think the songs, they both like really fit the songs really well. It was great to have those two sweet souls on the record.”
LeAnn and Gavin’s new version of Kenny Loggins‘ “Celebrate Me Home” has already become one of Nielsen’s top-10 most popular holiday songs this season.
“Gavin is just incredibly soulful. There’s very few people that could have sung that song, that can sing that song,” she laughs. “It’s definitely difficult, but he definitely brings his own kind of very cool, amazing, like I don’t know. He’s got such a cool voice. I love hearing him on that. I don’t think I could have heard myself doing it by myself without him. It was fun!”
With Aloe Blacc, she took on a soul classic. “‘The Spirit of Christmas’… is a Ray Charles song… and Aloe is such a dear, dear guy, and I think really brought that big of his own kind of Ray Charles to that song.”
LeAnn also reinvented some old standards for the record. The track called “Joy” is actually a medley of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
“I think it’s very challenging to try to make these songs that have been covered over and over again sound somewhat original and somewhat different and so this was our way of kind of putting these three songs that everyone has heard a million times and making it dramatic and different,” she reveals.
You can buy a version of the CD at Target that includes three bonus cuts: “Ring Them Bells,” “Pretty Paper” and “Happy Xmas (War Is Over).” LeAnn says she took re-inventing the John Lennon classic very seriously.
“We did it in a way — it’s music box, very intimate, just me and a piano. It’s such a delicate song. For me, it says so much and is so powerful, but to bring it back to this really delicate moment is completely different than the John Lennon version — not that I was ever trying to outdo it. Because you can’t do that. But I wanted it to be so different that there was no comparison. It’s one of my favorite songs, and it kills me every time.”
The admitted Christmas lover is only slightly less busy than Santa this time of year. This weekend, she plays the final three dates on her Today Is Christmas tour, wrapping up Sunday night in Palm Desert, California.
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