After a standout rendition of "Jolene" for a recent star-studded Dolly Parton tribute album, a performance on The Tonight Show, articles in USA Today, Rolling Stone and The New Yorker, and a designation as the Americana Music Association's New/Emerging Artist of the Year, Mindy Smith is Nashville's music-maker of the moment.
Her folkish 2004 debut, One Moment More, is full of sweetness and light (as might be suggested by the 32-year-old's waifish appearance). A curious exception is the opening song, "Come to Jesus," written from Mel Gib... sorry, I mean God's point of view, and filled to the brim with Dan Dugmore's dirty lap steel and Smith's plaintive Appalachian longing.
"When I was writing that song," Smith says, "I was super, super frustrated and somewhat jaded. I couldn't make anything work with my music and everything was just kind of falling apart, you know. And so that song came from that kind of poverty, struggle and frustration.
"When I wrote it, I sat down with my guitar and I said, What would God say to me if He were in the room?"
So we're clear then-this is Smith singing a song that she wrote in which God is singing to her.
"I think, yeah, in a manner of speaking," the singer-songwriter says. "I think He definitely spoke to me that day. It's definitely a perspective piece."
Smith grew up on Long Island, the adopted daughter of a minister and his choir-director wife who died of cancer when Smith was a teen. Then it was off to Cincinnati Bible College. Yet despite her religious background and the see-through subject matter of "Come to Jesus," Smith doesn't want to be classified as a Christian artist.
Like most artists, she avoids boxes of all sorts, even if they may be true to her religious beliefs.
"I want to be whatever I feel like being at that moment," she says. "I'm not necessarily your ideal Christian artist, anyway. I'm just as flawed as everybody else. I don't want expectations like that on me. I have to write about everything, you know."Mindy Smith sheds sweetness and light with Tift Merritt and Garrison Starr at 'Canes, 8 p.m. on Nov. 6. $17.50. 858-488-1780.