At the end of her music video “Jolene,” Mindy Smith finally finds her man cheating on her. Smith stands in the road, holding her lantern and staring down the guilty couple. And then … nothing!
“Well, wait until you see ‘Jolene: Part II,’” she jokes.
It’s not hard to imagine Jolene getting a good whuppin’ from Smith, who grew up on Long Island near New York City. She’s a fighter. But most of her battles involve getting through the little roadblocks in life, keeping her spirituality intact and accepting loss when it’s the last thing you want to face.
In fact, she has dedicated her debut album, One Moment More, to the memory of her mother, who died of cancer in 1991.
“It’s my way of keeping her here with me,” Smith explains. “People say, ‘Oh, she’s with you,’ or ‘She’s looking down on you,’ and I don’t go for it. For me, that’s not my way of dealing with it. My way of dealing with my problems is writing songs or just staying home and not doing anything. She was a vocalist and she made a lot of sacrifices, but she loved her life and she loved her family. She was just a special, special person.”
Although she insists (three times) that she’s still a happy person, Smith adds, “I’m not thrilled that she’s not here. Basically I think it stinks, and I’ve never really quite healed from it.”
As the cornerstone of One Moment More, the delicate title track has been a staple of Smith’s live set in Nashville for several years. In the song, she begs her mother to “Hold me, even though I know you’re leaving.” It’s not hard to imagine Patty Loveless or Trisha Yearwood turning it into a country hit — or even one of Smith’s early supporters, Lee Ann Womack.
“Probably the first country record that I really liked honestly was [by] Lee Ann Womack,” Smith says. “I really relate to Lee Ann’s song selection and her vocals. I’ve been a big fan of hers, and I actually got a chance to sing with her a couple times which was huge for me because I’m such a huge fan. It took a minute to get used to that idea.”
Not to be outdone, Womack says, “Mindy Smith has one of the most beautiful, pure, unaffected voices I’ve ever heard. And her thoughtful lyrics are as honest as her singing. Those are qualities that are hard to come by these days.”
Dolly Parton, who added her vocals to Smith’s version of “Jolene,” has said, “I believe [Mindy] will leave her mark as one of our greatest writers and singers ever.”
With the exception of Parton’s “Jolene,” Smith wrote every song on the album. Many of them involve her Christian faith, including the album’s first single, “Come to Jesus.” About her faith, Smith says, “It’s certainly something that I reflect on a lot when I’m struggling or when I’m having a joyful time in my life. I still go back to the fact that life could be a lot worse than it is. Somebody out there is having a worse day than I am, somewhere, and then you just wind up being really thankful.”
After her mother died, her minister father relocated to Knoxville, Tenn. There, Smith was introduced to roots-oriented musicians like Shawn Colvin, the Cox Family and Alison Krauss. She moved to Nashville in 1998 to pursue a career in music, though she shied away from signing with the major labels in town. Nonetheless, she remains a fan of the city itself.
“Honestly, and I’ve said this with my heart, I really love Nashville. Overall, it’s a great place to live, especially if you are in music. A lot of the other areas that you go to, it’s just so costly. This is cost effective. You can live here and starve as an artist and still find quarters to buy crackers. I also found a lot of support musically here from other musicians or writers, just trying to become a better writer. Nashville is the place to do that. We’ve got the best of the best writing here in this town and some extraordinary artists have come out of Nashville.”
Songwriter Jason White (“Red Ragtop”) has shared the bill with Smith in Nashville clubs throughout the years. He observes, “Mindy Smith has that rare combination of sincerity and jagged-edged street wisdom that holds any audience hostage. She appears so young and frail, but her voice has the power and allure of a true blues woman.”
In addition to genuinely impressing the fickle music business, she has also accumulated a strong fan base, largely drawn from the Nashville club audiences.
“I have a lot of musicians come out, but I also have a lot of people who need a vehicle, somebody to write for them that couldn’t otherwise express what they’re dealing with,” Smith says. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have people come to me and say, ‘Thank you for writing that song,’ which is an honor. It’s the biggest compliment anybody can give a writer. ‘I didn’t know how to say that. Thank you.’”