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Jo Dee Messina wraps her holiday spirit in classic Christmas songs

What Jo Dee Messina really wants is to personally serenade you with Christmas songs. Since that's not likely to happen, the energetic performer aims to recreate the intimate sound with her new CD, A Joyful Noise.

"I wanted this Christmas album to be like, 'Hey, I'm coming to your house and I'm going to set up in your living room and sing you a few Christmas songs,' " she says. "I kept the songs very bare. My vocal is stripped down. The instrumentation is so raw, which I love. We sang through the songs and then left them. We didn't go back and fix things."

During "Let It Snow," listeners can even hear Jo Dee laughing. "It sounds like I'm choking, but actually I'm laughing," she explains with a giggle. "It's the part where I sing All the way home I'll be warm. Then I sigh and sing, Well the fire is slowly dyin'. I just thought the sigh was funny. I saw the guys in the control room and, when I sighed, they laughed. We didn't fix it, because if I were sitting in your living room singing to you, I wouldn't have the opportunity to go back and redo what I just did."

A Joyful Noise is exactly the kind of record Jo Dee dreamed of recording as a young singer. She fondly recalls her annual holiday performances.

"I remember being 15 years old and one of the gigs I got was at the local mall," she notes. "I sang Christmas songs from one o'clock until six o'clock every Saturday and Sunday during the Christmas season. I sang them over and over again - but I loved it! That was a big part of my life."

Jo Dee's album contains holiday favorites, including "Winter Wonderland" and "O Holy Night," done in standard arrangements. "I didn't want to take Christmas songs and funk them up," says Jo Dee, "or get 'em lost in production. I wanted them to resemble the way I knew them - and that was in a very classic, traditional sense."

There are a few other songs Jo Dee loves to sing, but you won't find them on A Joyful Noise. "I used to do Dolly Parton's 'Hard Candy Christmas,' " she confesses, "and 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' is a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton song I really wanted to do. But some songs are sacred, Christmas or non-seasonal. I would never sing 'Grandpa (Tell Me 'Bout The Good Old Days)' because that's The Judds. I'd never sing 'Whoever's In New England' because that's Reba McEntire.

"When I was choosing songs for the Christmas record, I personally didn't do 'White Christmas' because, to me, 'White Christmas' will always be Bing Crosby. The 78 rpm of Bing Crosby singing 'White Christmas' is on my Victrola right now, all year long. We didn't do 'Blue Christmas' because that's Elvis. It's sacred ground to me."

Jo Dee is wrapping up a short holiday tour in support of

A Joyful Noise. And afterward she'll have no time to rest - she's returning to the studio to work on her next country project, set for release sometime in 2003. She's even planning on using the stripped-down approach to recording on the new album. And for the follow-up to Burn, fans can expect to hear more Jo Dee-penned tunes.

"I've been doing a lot more writing," she reports. "And I've got a couple of my songs on the new record. I've been writing for years and I finally got a cut on myself!"

For Jo Dee and her fiance, Don Muzquiz, the holidays will be family time. "Most of our Christmas activities will be family activities. We don't have any plans for the two of us to get away."

Or any wedding plans for the near future. Perhaps in 2003? "I'll have to let you know," she says with a smile.

Like most adult siblings, Jo Dee's brother and sisters usually spend Christmas with their own children. "Growing up it was always a holiday we spent together," she explains. "Now everyone's off on their own in different directions. But this year, I'm very happy to say, I've rented an inn in New Hampshire and my whole family will be together for the entire week of Christmas. We're going to wake up Christmas morning with all of us together. I'm so excited!

"We always open one present on Christmas Eve and the rest Christmas morning," she shares. "And all the presents that come from Santa Claus are not wrapped. They just show up there, unwrapped, and we see them Christmas morning."

But this Christmas, Jo Dee's wish list is simple.

"I don't want anything," she admits. "I just don't need anything. If every day I get a chance to wake up and be here, I'm happy. I don't see spending money frivolously just because you can. I think when I wake up Christmas morning with my family, that will be the best gift ever."

-- Story by Wendy Newcomer