The lights and candles and wreaths were out in Sheryl Crow's Los Angeles living room—in mid-June. Christmas came early in Crow's world this year because of an as-yet- untitled holiday album she's recorded with producer Bill Bottrell for Hallmark's annual series, following releases by James Taylor, Barry Manilow and George Strait. It'll drop into Hallmark Gold Crown stores in September, and Crow gave Billboard an exclusive sneak peek before stashing it away until then. "We grew up singing Christmas carols [with] four-part harmonies," she says. "Christmas wasn't Christmas until the Christmas Eve service, and we all sang in the choir. It's still that way."

What sent you in a Christmas direction?

I had been wanting to do this for awhile, so when the opportunity came up I just kind of jumped at it. I love Christmas music; every year we have this ritual after the Christmas Eve service, 40 or 50 people come over the house and we play Christmas music. We pretty much rely on the same Christmas music every year, and every year I've said, "I'm gonna make some Christmas music of my own." There's been lots of amazing Christmas records that have come out, but where Christmas music is concerned there's always room for everyone.

Given your friends and associates, Christmas Eve at Sheryl Crow's sounds pretty intriguing. Does someone get taken to task if he or she hits a bad note?

Click here for the full interview with Sheryl Crow including her approach on the new release, the repertoire covered and more.

For full coverage of Billboard's special Christmas In July issue, click here.