Mindy Smith (Photo courtesy Silverleaf Booking)
When she was a child, Mindy Smith struggled to clean up her room. “I’m not known as the most organized human being,” she recently told her audience at City Winery. She’d start cleaning, but then she’d find a toy, and she’d start playing.
Soon enough, there’d be an even bigger mess than she when she’d started. As her mother looked on and instructed her in the items she needed to put away — because, as she emphasized, her mom made her do it herself — she would slowly clearly away the mess. Her mother would say it looked like a tornado had gone through through her room. “Tornado” doesn’t make for good lyrics, though, so Mindy took a little poetic license and changed it to “Hurricane,” which became the title of a song.
I find this particularly relatable. As a kid, cleaning up was never easy for me. I’ve gotten better at as I’ve grown up, but I’m still not great. As Mindy was singing this one, I looked down at the many bandages on my fingers and I felt seen. My partner calls me her “chaos monkey.”
At City Winery DC on Sept. 28, much of Smith’s set was similarly relatable, including the immediately preceding number, “Raggedy Ann.” Introducing it, she said, “This is a sad song, shocking, I know. It’s about a little girl who got picked on a lot. It made me stronger. Except for this song.”
Sadly, I know all too much about being on the receiving end of childhood bullying. The song hit especially hard because my parents got Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for me and my sister when were little. And, much like the character in this song, I’ve much of my life coming apart at the seams; I’ve only started to feel like I’m in control of my life and I’m happy since the beginning of this year, which is something to say when you’re 42.
A native of Long Island, New York, Smith has lived and worked in Nashville, Tennessee, since 1998. Her brother-in-law, who lives in the area and attended the show, told me she’s been in the state even longer, having moved to Knoxville in 1994. She payed tribute to her adopted home with the appropriately titled “Tennessee.” Her niece and nephews, the subject of “It’s Amazing,” which she played in her encore, were also at the show. Family was a frequent theme; “I Only Have You To Thank,” which she said “might be the saddest song I’ve ever written, or the most irritating,” was dedicated to her sister Jen. In her encore, she shared that she was adopted, and that she’d written “One Moment More” for her mother, who she’d lost to breast cancer.
Watch the official music video for “One Moment More” by Mindy Smith on YouTube:
Smith was in good spirits throughout last week’s show. Before she started her set with “Fighting For It All,” she told the audience, “I recommend the cauliflower.” As she tuned her guitar for “Hard To Know,” she said, “I’m good at counting,” referring to the frets on her acoustic guitar. I playfully suggested, “At least up to five.”
“Stupid Love” was the title track of her 2009 album, which she mentioned had the same producer as Kacey Musgraves’s Grammy Award-winning album, Golden Hour. The song, she was quite frank, is about hoarding. Smith has had a number of collaborations with major Nashville songwriters. She co-wrote “Out Loud’ with Hillary Lindsey and “If I Didn’t Know Any Better” with Jon Scott Sherill. Sherill is a songwriting legend who was recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. The song was covered by Allison Krauss.
One of the funnier moments came when she introduced “Angel Doves.” Apparently, someone had misheard that title as “Angel Dust,” which she said she had no experience with. “Tin Can” was a bit of a departure, as “it’s kind of happy.” She ended the set with “Peace Eludes Me” and “The Hour of My Departure,” which was cowritten with Daniel Tashien.
Her encore, as I’ve already mentioned, included “One Minute More” and “It’s Amazing.” She closed the intimate set of songs and stories with “Come To Jesus.” People often ask me how I feel, as someone of a different faith, about songs that explicitly mention Jesus and/or Christian faith; the truth is, if the songs are skillfully done, as this one is, I can appreciate them as art. The impulse to faith and religion has produce much great art, and it would be foolish to close yourself off from it simply because it doesn’t fit with your own worldview or experience.
At least a part of why we listen to songs is to peer through an emotional window into other lives and perspectives. Mindy Smith’s songs are carefully drawn portraits that excel at this.