With new CD, Faith Hill in Christmas mood already

Sun Jul 6, 2008 11:10pm EDT
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By Ray Waddell

LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - It's summer and it's hot, but even so, Faith Hill is quick to warm up to talk about Christmas.

Which is more than appropriate as she starts promoting the first Christmas album of her 15-year career, "Joy to the World," due September 16 on Warner Bros.

While many Nashville-based artists record holiday records early and relatively often, Hill's was several years in the making and intended to be her definitive take on the season. "Joy to the World" is overwhelmingly a collection of standards, be it the big, booming orchestral arrangements of the title track or "Oh, Holy Night" or swinging, big-band, vintage-sounding versions of more lighthearted fare such as "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Holly, Jolly Christmas."

"I love everything about Christmas, and I have wanted to record a Christmas album since the beginning of my career," Hill said while taking a break from shooting video for potential TV spots promoting the record. The day before, Hill had been at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., taping "Sunday Night Football" promo spots with a group of NFL stars.

Even as the industry craters, holiday-themed records remain a lucrative niche for labels. Josh Groban's "Noel" (2007) has moved 6.7 million copies in the United States for Warner Bros., flirting with Kenny G's "Miracles-The Holiday Album" from 1994, the top-selling Christmas album of the Nielsen SoundScan era (1991-present). On the country side, Toby Keith's Christmas album "A Toby Keith Classic Christmas" sold 294,000 last year.

Hill was in stores last year with a greatest-hits package that sold just 257,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. She has moved more than 19 million albums in her career, topped by the 6.5 million copies of "Breathe" in 1999. Her last studio set, 2005's "Fireflies" has sold more than 2.2 million copies.

Work on "Joy" started three years ago, but the project was sidetracked by the "Fireflies" and hits packages, not to mention the massive, record-breaking Soul2Soul II tour with her husband, Tim McGraw, in 2007-08. When those projects wrapped, Hill returned to the Christmas album.

Song selection was one of the "toughest things" about putting the project together, Hill said. She didn't take the easy road, instead choosing challenging vocals, complicated lyrics and ambitious melodic structure. The album plays to her strengths as an unmistakably Southern soulful chanteuse and also conjures a vintage feel that would work in any era.   Continued...

<p>Country singer Faith Hill arrives at the Muhammad Ali Celebrity Fight Night awards banquet in Phoenix, Arizona, April 5, 2008. The event raises money for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and other charities. REUTERS/Jeff Topping</p>