"I believe she will leave her mark as one of our greatest writers and singers ever." That's a quote from none other than Dolly Parton, about Mindy Smith, the 2004 Americana Music Association's Emerging/New Artist of the Year.
Hefty praise, but Smith's stunning debut, One Moment More (Vanguard), seems to warrant it. The tender agonies and hard truths she deftly puts to song connected with a wide variety of music lovers, including critics from Rolling Stone ("Smith's voice is marvelous") to The New York Times ("excellent debut"). The Los Angeles Times even called Smith's hopeful ballad "Angel Doves" "as moving as any pop effort this side of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.'"
Smith recorded "Jolene" for last year's Parton tribute album, and the two dueted earlier this year on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After the February 2004 debut of One Moment More, which Smith co-produced with veteran Steve Buckingham, every music journalist on the planet was clamoring for a few words, and Smith kept up a tour schedule that would wither a seasoned road warrior. But this adopted daughter of a Baptist minister father and choir director mom delivered the goods at every turn.
Reared on Long Island, NY, and transplanted to Knoxville, Tennessee in her teens, Smith is surprised at and grateful for the welcome. She is pragmatic, positive and downright funny in conversation, even if her songs suggest otherwise.
"Success is new. I've been a miserable failure the better part of my life," she says, letting loose a deep laugh, "and this is what a lot of those songs are about." But even with that gratitude for the positive reception, riding a fast train to fame is never easy. And her honesty in song also brings the particular burden of baring your soul over and over when you've done a deeply autobiographical album. "It can be draining," she admits without a shred of self-pity, "to go out there and do these songs every night and scrape up the pieces when I'm done. And then go out and do it again."
It's that unflagging candor in conversation and lyric, the latter of which is wrapped in a roots-rock carriage and propelled to the soul-ethers on a feather-bed soprano, that's endeared her to us. Whether it's a self-directed reminder of faith in hard times, as in "Come to Jesus," or chronicling a tough emotional childhood, as in "Raggedy Ann," or the raw yearning for her mother in the title track, Mindy Smith has given us both hope of surviving our hard times and the comfort of knowing there's someone who not only understands our angst, but has followed the rites of the people's poet, and set it all to beautiful music.