Mindy Smith never set out to record a hit song, and she sure as hell never thought her first exposure to a mass audience would come from a video that went with her version of a country-music classic. But when her haunting cover of “Jolene” was selected as the lead single from Just Because I’m a Woman: The Songs of Dolly Parton, that’s exactly what happened.
And even though Smith had turned down major-label offers in the past—deciding instead to sign with the more artist-friendly Vanguard Records because she wanted to make sure she could record her first album her way—she takes the unexpected success of the “Jolene” video (which landed in heavy rotation on both CMT and VH-1 Country) for the blessing it is.
“I’m not really a country artist, so I’m grateful that country audiences have embraced the song,” she says from her New York hotel room, where she’s wrapping up a promotional tour two months before her debut, One Moment More, is to be released. The biggest thrill of her career so far, she says, came when she got to watch Parton react to her version of “Jolene,” which takes the desperation of the original to the brink of violence. “She didn’t know anything about me, but she didn’t care,” Smith recalls. “If I knew how to repay somebody who has everything, I would.”
Now it’s time for Smith, who moved to Nashville in 1998, to focus once again on her own music, which she describes as “Americana rock with a hue of blues and Appalachia.” One Moment More’s sound falls somewhere between The Dixie Chicks and Patty Griffin, the product of a singer-songwriter who views herself as a performer first and foremost. “It’s all about communicating with people. Performing is a really sensitive place,” Smith says, “and people need to know that you’re being true.”
With songs like “Fighting for it All” and “It’s Amazing,” Smith stays true to herself while embracing a sound that’s inviting enough to appeal to mainstream fans as well as alt.country snobs. “My whole life’s on that record,” Smith says, adding that she’s got enough material for four more albums and spends every moment she can writing new songs. She wants to be heard, she says, but not at the expense of writing the kinds of songs she wants to write.
“There’s times I’m a little more raw than people expect me to be,” she says. “I’ll promise you this: No matter what happens, I’ll never, ever stop being honest in my music.”