Mindy Smith Says Hello Dolly

Young singer-songwriter wows country vet

November 5, 2003 12:00 AM ET

Mindy Smith moved to Nashville with 300 bucks in her pocket and the phone number of a friend. When she called, the friend had moved but the person on the other end was looking for a roommate and the rent just happened to be 300 bucks a month.

Five years later, Smith is enjoying similar good fortune with her cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." Recorded for this year's Just Because I'm a Woman, Songs of Dolly Parton tribute album, Smith's version has been hailed by Parton as her favorite, and Dolly's backed up her praise by going on The Tonight Show to belt it out alongside the young singer-songwriter.

"It was a challenge because she has such diehard fans out there," says Smith. "It's her most cut song, so that also was tricky. Most of Dolly's songs that I'd heard were the ones from her later years, like 'Little Sparrow," so I was not inhibited by other people's arrangements or approaches. It was really from an honest and fresh place, and I just wanted to honor her as best as I could. And Dolly just went, 'I love it,' and she's really got behind me as a writer. Nothing but great stuff has come out of 'Jolene.'"

Out early next year, Smith's debut album One Moment More documents her coming of age, with songs like "Raggedy Ann," a portrait of an unhappy childhood, and the title track, a rumination on life and loss.

"It's about my mom Sharon who passed away from breast cancer," says Smith, who first left her native Long Island, New York, after her mother's death. "It's been a great healing song. A lot of people have thanked me for writing it, because they didn't know how to communicate how they fekt. The record is dedicated to her. She was also a musician and a fabulous singer."

Smith was a fan of the Cure long before she ever heard Alison Krauss or Shawn Colvin, and tracks like "It's Amazing" -- penned in Smith's ratty Nashville studio apartment -- represent the young songwriter's bid to transcend the doom and gloom of her early writing efforts.

"When I first started writing, everyone was like, 'Why are you're songs so sad?'" she says. "With that song, I just had a nephew and a niece -- my sister had a little boy and my other sister had a little girl -- and I was madly in love with them. So I had to figure out how to incorporate that joy into writing."

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