Lava Records has signed Vanessa Williams for two themed albums. A Christmas set, "Silver & Gold," is due Oct. 12, and will be followed in February with an album of classic love songs from the '70s

Lava Records has signed Vanessa Williams for two themed albums. A Christmas set, "Silver & Gold," is due Oct. 12, and will be followed in February with an album of classic love songs from the '70s.

"The themed projects were important parts of the deal," says Lava founder and president Jason Flom, who is also chairman/CEO of Atlantic Records. "We didn't just want to go into this with, 'Let's just try to get a lot of airplay and promote it the traditional way.' Vanessa has another life; she can't be on the road 350 days a year promoting a record in the way that you have to promote your normal pop or hot AC record."

It was that understanding that appealed to Williams. "I had been looking for the right deal for a few years," she tells Billboard. "That meant being allowed to do all the things that I do and being appreciated for it. I don't live and breathe only in the music world, and thankfully [so], because it's gone through some tremendous ups and downs, and I'm 41. You can't have longevity all that time."

Williams has focused on Broadway and movies since "Next," her last Mercury Records studio set in 1997, which has sold 220,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

It was also crucial to Williams that she continue to work with Rob Mathes, who has produced, arranged and conducted her material since her first Christmas collection in 1996.

In fact, she laughs when she recalls how her early albums were made. "In the past, it was a producer's medium. 'Can you get R. Kelly, Jimmy Jam?' That's why everything was so expensive back in the day, those producer-friendly days when they made lots of money and cost the artists a fortune and the artists didn't make any money at all."

Instead, Williams told Lava that she and Mathes would deliver the Christmas record on a budget less than one-tenth of previous ones, but that still allowed them to cut the strings at Abbey Road Studios.

Williams will promote the album with a Sept. 14 performance on QVC. She will also have a seven-show Broadway run at the Palace Theater Dec. 1-5.

Here is the track list for "Silver & Gold":

"Silver and Gold"
"Joy the World" featuring Brian McKnight
"Marys Boy Child"
"Silent Night"
"Winter Weather"
"Drummer Boy"
"Merry Christmas Darling"
"Rise Up Shepherd"
"I Dream a World"
"December Lullaby"
"The Holly and the Ivy"
"Christmas Is"
"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"