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Our critics' picks in new releases

Soundbite 

Our critics' picks in new releases

Since I had been listening to it for a month, I already knew Mindy Smith's Vanguard debut One Moment More would work perfectly on a bitterly cold, snow covered Saturday morning. Sun and clouds battled for supremacy, the fire crackled, the cats complained, and Mindy painted her emotional scenery vividly. After five years developing her craft in Nashville and hearing people like Alison Krauss record her songs, Smith demonstrated her singing chops with a convincing, rocking "Jolene" on Just Because I'm A Woman, the Dolly Parton tribute album that appeared last September. In fact, she earned a slot on Leno long before this album's Jan. 27 release.

Co-produced with longtime Parton collaborator Steve Buckingham, One Moment More gives a much more comprehensive idea of what Mindy Smith's music is about, especially 11 examples of her writing. Although her lyrics and clear spiritual overlay demonstrate an influence from traditional music, Smith's more adventuresome arrangements and willingness to play with her phrasing give her a sound much more in tune with VH1 than CMT. Despite the Dolly association, only occasionally does Mindy Smith move in a country direction. Even the aching "Angel Doves," the most country title, sounds more like Patsy Cline than Kitty Wells. Consider, however, that Smith spent her first 19 years on Long Island before relocating in 1994 to Knoxville, where she fell under the differing influences of Krauss, the Cure, Shawn Colvin, the Cox Family, and swampadelic duo Blue Mother Tupelo. Note also that she flatly told No Depression that "I'm not going to change my songs to make them fit the radio."

Thus Smith spurned major label offers to sign with veteran indie Vanguard, which gave the world Joan Baez some forty years ago. With Buckingham's help, she has delivered an astonishing full-length debut with memorable, mostly folk-pop and folk-rock melodies and lyrics both uplifting and troubling. Smith can explore growing up poor and on the outside in "Raggedy Ann" ("I'm just a little girl/I'm Raggedy Ann/Making believe I'm happy/Hey Raggedy Ann/Falling apart at the seams.") then turn right around with the defiantly optimistic folk pop of "Fighting For It All," where the singer goes after everything she has heretofore done without ("You can try to keep me under/But you'll never take my will to fight"). Throughout, her lyrics seem disarmingly natural, the next line following so logically from its predecessor that no other words would seem to work as well.

At times quiet and at others raucous, the diversity of One Moment More introduces us to a remarkable new artist. Mindy Smith, at the onset of her recording career, already demonstrates powerful skills as a vocalist, composer, arranger, and producer.

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