I was channel surfing one night when I ran across Mindy Smith’s video for “Come to Jesus” on CMT.
Having seen her name in various magazines, I decided to stay and watch.
Something about her voice struck me as familiar, but I couldn’t pinpoint a reference within her genre. Emmylou Harris? Not reedy enough. Lucinda Williams? Too clear. Shania Twain? Nowhere near pop. Caitlin Cary? Wrong range.
I cast a wider memory net, and it hit me — she sounds a lot like Harriett Wheeler from the Sundays.
It had been years since I owned Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, the Sunday’s 1990 debut album, and hearing Smith sing “Come to Jesus” made me nostalgic for “Here’s Where the Story Ends”.
But that’s another story.
There’s a slight timbral similarity between Smith and Wheeler that pops up in certain places on Smith’s debut album, One Moment More, most notably on “Raggedy Ann”.
When Smith sings, “So when did I get so broken/I wouldn’t notice/Everything just break away from me”, it’s easy to hear Wheeler deliver the line in her Cockney accent.
And the way Smith extends the last syllable of “When we’re falling” on the track “Falling” sounds almost English.
In fact, the Sundays’ fragile post-punk sound owes a bit to folk music, and that distant relationship connects the group with Smith on a very subconscious level.
That’s to say Smith may get airtime on CMT, but she’s not entirely a country artist.
Smith’s songwriting isn’t beholden to the down-home themes required by country radio, and when she writes about love, she not averse to using vivid imagery.
In “Down in Flames”, Smith imagines blissfulness with a person who recognizes life isn’t easy. On “Hurricane”, she requires the destructive force of a storm to erase the memory of a love gone awry.
“Angel Doves” is so subtle with its inspirational theme, it takes really attentive listening to pick up on it. And even “Come to Jesus”, which can’t be more clear about its theme, is dressed not in major key sublimity but minor key grit.
One Moment More doesn’t indulge in overly glossy production. The twang is given a light touch, and Smith doesn’t pretend she’s from the south.
It also helps that Smith’s songwriting is strong throughout the album — there isn’t a rough patch on the entire album. Save for one.
Smith owns the cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”, which she contributed to the tribute album, Just Because I’m a Woman. But Parton’s presence on backing vocals in the version tacked on as a bonus track feels distracting.
Still, One Moment More is an incredible debut by a songwriter well-versed in country music to produce a brand of her own.