Folks in the music biz say Nashville is a five-year town. Mindy Smith arrived there in 1998 with $300 and a friend’s phone number—and the friend had moved away by the time Smith got there. This spring the critically acclaimed singer/songwriter hits the road opening for Mary Chapin Carpenter to promote her debut solo release, One Moment More. For Smith, who cites Gillian Welch, The Sundays, Patti Griffin, The Cure and Alison Krauss as influences, the Music City math worked out about right.
“It’s only been in the last couple of years that people have been supportive,” she says.
The Long Island native began writing songs at a bible college in Ohio during the early 1990s, having left New York after her mother died. “I was a lousy student,” Smith admits. “I went there because I needed to get away.” After she dropped out of school in Cincinnati, she moved to Knoxville, Tenn., with her preacher father, and paid her dues on the open mic circuit—she started by singing a capella with a guitar lying untouched in her lap, until eventually she learned how to play the instrument to expand her performances.
“[Since then] I have been embraced by artists in country music,” Smith says, though she is quick to add: “I do not do country music.”
Smith’s major-label debut was a single track on Just Because I’m a Woman: A Tribute to Dolly Parton. The 2003 release includes cuts from established acts like Emmylou Harris, Shania Twain and Sinead O’Connor, but Smith’s interpretation of Parton’s “Jolene” nestles in comfortably alongside the work of better-known artists. Covering the work of others, however, is not Smith’s bag. At the end of last year, she released the all-original One Moment More in an effort to break away from the country pack.
Sincerity and confession drive Smith’s lyrics on the effort, but sentimentality undermines her reach for the poetic pitch of idols like Welch and Griffin. Smith’s voice, which might be remarkable accompanied solely by acoustic guitar, is stretched thin on her album, drowned out by flashy Nashville production. One Moment More seems to choke both Smith’s musical message and her “I want to create my own sound” credo.
Not edgy enough for alt-country and too smart for pop-country, Smith promises a different, stripped-down performance on tour. With many miles (literal and otherwise) under her belt, Smith may yet find her niche.
Mindy Smith and Mary Chapin Carpenter play the Adams Center Tuesday, May 3, at 7:30 PM. Tickets start at $28.