leann rimes -- 2014
 Sara Hertel

The holidays are a special time for LeAnn Rimes. That enthusiasm is showcased vividly on the brand-new Yuletide collection One Christmas: Chapter 1.

"I really love the Christmas holiday season," she told Billboard. "For this project, instead of doing one record like I did last time," she said in reference to her 2004 disc What a Wonderful World, "I wanted to do an EP and spread it around over the next three years. I love it. I miss making Christmas music, so I'm happy."

Rimes says she felt very free to experiment with her sound on the release. "There's a little bit of dirty south kind of sound, but it's also very intimate. It was nice to do some songs that haven't been covered as much, so it was nice to set the tone with something a little different than what normal Christmas records have been."

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The six-song EP contains many of Rimes' favorite songs, such as the timeless "Silent Night." The songstress said she loved giving the song a unique wrinkle. "I wanted to do something different and base it around my voice. I was originally going to do it with just my voice, which is still something I want to tackle later. I think because of the idea of the different voices, we thought we could take a different approach to it. I think there's an ethereal and sweet quality to it," she says.

Though she did make a few subtle changes to some of the classics on the disc, Rimes says she was careful not to reinvent the wheel. "I love the classic Christmas music. I feel that a lot of times when it's new Christmas music, it becomes really slick, and you lose the warmth and the heart of what I love about Christmas music." What were some of those classic sounds she recalls from growing up? "My grandmother was way into Elvis, so I grew up listening to all of his Christmas music, as well as Bing Crosby," she says. "There's something about 'White Christmas'; that will always be where Christmas music begins with me," she said, also citing the Alabama classic "Christmas in Dixie" as one of her favorites.

Another song from the EP that is close to her heart is "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." She says she remains in awe of Gayla Peevey's 1953 original. "I knew I would never be able to re-create her voice, though I play around with my voice on the song. I'm surprised more people haven't cut it, maybe because of that reason. My youngest stepson is obsessed with the song, so I did it for selfish reasons. We threw everything in but the kitchen sink on that song."

Having a family of her own has definitely changed the way Rimes has looked at the holidays. "I have two stepsons, who are 11 and 7. We decorate huge at the house. My godmother always did, and my stepdad did, so I've kind of taken it over. I can kind of blame it on the kids now. I can guilt my husband into putting the decorations up early because the kids want it, but really...I want it. It is a totally different thing for me. It's the one time of year where I get to be childlike. I didn't get to have much of a normal childhood, so it's fun to be with the kids and see their joy at opening presents. I have to say that I fall in the same category that time of year where I love the excitement of Christmas," she says with a smile.

One of Rimes' favorite songs on One Christmas: Chapter 1 is the Dolly Parton classic "Hard Candy Christmas." Originally a No. 8 hit for the singer from 1982, the song from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas soundtrack is one that definitely left a mark on Rimes. "I love the song, but people either love it or they hate it. I wanted to bring out the sadness of the song. I wanted it to be just me and a steel guitar. It could have been so downhill with me being so ambitious in singing with the steel, but with Paul Franklin playing, he can create so many sounds. He's the only one I could have done that with. We sat in a dark room and played it together. I cried a couple of times, because it was so heartbreaking and I had to get used to singing it. For me as an artist, to hear that tone on the steel guitar is quite moving."