There seems to be a growing number of female singers that don't quite fit into that country niche, nor snuggly into the alt-country or Americana area. Mindy Smith, despite being from Long Island, can be and should be added to the list. The singer has always mixed a heap of blues, country, and everything else into her own style. And for once the record labels have sat up and taken notice. After being alongside Norah Jones, Shania Twain, and others for the recent tribute album to Dolly Parton, Smith has been signed to Vanguard. So her debut album, despite not featuring songs like "Jolene", is a relatively good first step along a hopefully lengthy and prosperous career.
The record starts with "Come to Jesus", but it isn't the dirge-like hymnal that you might anticipate. Instead Smith toes the line between raunchy roots and church gospel. "Child, when life don't seem like living / Come to Jesus and let him hold you in His arms", Smith sings as the song finds a great groove early. It's as if the stork dropped Norah Jones in Nashville. Strong musicians are also helping the number out while Smith rounds out the bridge, but Smith steals the song with an a cappella finale. "Falling", which consists of vocal and mandolin, is another great track that brings singers like Alison Krauss to mind -- earthy but pretty at the same time. It's a slower and mellower pop-folk tune that finds Smith at the top of her game.
Smith has been around long enough to know what suits her like an old shoe vocally, and the tune "Raggedy Ann" is such an example. Again slow, and with an innate swaying quality to it, this lullaby has a great flow despite closing in at nearly five minutes. But when she decides to pick up the musical pace, she is able to hold her own, thank you very much. Sounding a bit like Natalie Merchant on "Fighting for It All", the song is just a hair too slick for some ears, especially after the opening chorus. And Smith, for the first time, doesn't do anything special to make the song stand out. She gets back to her assets though with an adorable "Train Song", which has a lot of old Opry style to it.
The centerpiece of the record is "It's Amazing", but it again sounds just a bit too polished and sleek to be given credence. If this was recorded in one take it might resonate even better than it does to listeners. Not to say it's a horrid song, but the track doesn't live up to its expectations. "Angel Doves" might jumpstart this album's popularity, although it is the eighth track among eleven. Speaking about the big man upstairs looking down, Smith give the song a style that current country teen idol Billy Gilman might consider -- melancholic but not too somber. When she travels down this road too far, it is a bit too lightweight on tracks such as "Down in Flames", a wisp of strings added with moderate results.
One negative to the record is that Smith seems more than content to follow the same style down almost to a science. "Hurricane" has nothing in it to separate itself from possibly three or four of the previous songs. While the album doesn't have to be all happy-go-lucky, there could be a few lighter, bouncier moments. But on the song Smith sounds like she's reflecting about a lost love or old flame again. "I need a hurricane to straighten out this place / It may be the only way to salvage any sense I have left to move on", she sings, the closing line being quite wordy at best. She thankfully gets her mojo working on the crunchy "Hard to Know", which has a great barroom country rock riff oozing from it, a la Lucinda Williams circa Essence or, prior to that, "Joy". Too little too late rock-wise, but this record brims with talented and thoughtful songs, music, words, and vocals.