Mindy Smith returns to the Southland for a show Sept. 21 at McCabe's… (Fairlight Hubbard )
Singer and songwriter Mindy Smith knows too well the mixed emotions that can come with losing a loved one.
When Smith was 19, her mother died of cancer, a loss she explored to great critical acclaim on her 2004 debut album, “One Moment More,” which earned her a place alongside respected singer-songwriters such as Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams. Loss and recovery have been strong themes on her subsequent releases, "Long Island Shores” in 2006 and 2009’s “Stupid Love.”
She returns to that theme, from a slightly different perspective, on her new collection, “Mindy Smith,” which was released in June on her own Giant Leap Records label. She’s on a tour supporting the album that brings the Long Island-reared, Nashville-based musician back to the Southland for shows Thursday at the Griffin in San Diego and Friday at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.
In “Everything Here Will Be Fine,” she sings a heart-on-sleeve message centering on a hard-to-come-by acceptance of letting a parent go.
Go ahead mother, he’s calling you home
You can’t stay here forever it’s time you moved on
Don’t worry none
Everything here will be fine
Smith said the song grew out of her realization that she was still carrying as much anger as sadness over her mother’s death.
“She’s been gone a long time,” Smith, 40, told Pop & Hiss from her home in Nashville a few days before heading out on the West Coast leg of her tour. “I should have let her off the hook a long time ago, but in my dream, I’m still mad at her. I’m not like, ‘Oh, I love you, where have you been?’ I’m more like 'Why would you do that to us?’ I needed to channel that and shift gears in my thoughts."
"That’s also coming out in how I’m presenting [the song] ‘One Moment More’ in concert now,” she said. “It’s not so much a sad song, but a song that celebrates knowing somebody who’s special.”
The new album returns to the warm folk and roots music tenor of her first two releases, after an exploration of a broader range of pop and rock sonic textures on “Stupid Love.”
“I needed to make an uptempo, upbeat album for myself, more or less because I was in such a really tough place in my life. I needed to enjoy every element of making a record, and that’s what happened,” she said. “There wasn’t any intention to create a new sound, I just have a lot of pop influences too.
“For this current record, I really needed to be OK with myself as a person,” she said. “You know how I am: Never wavering, I am a mess; I can’t find a genre, and that’s OK, I’ve come to terms with that.”
Even though the album does span a range of styles, from the eerie, bluegrass-rooted opening track “Closer” to the punchy country rock of “Pretending the Stars” and the jazz-inflected swing balladry of “Cure for Love,” Smith’s vulnerability and resilience create threads of consistency that bind them together.
“Cure for Love” also showcases her proficiency as a vocal stylist, something she traces to her admiration for singers such as Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone.
“I’m a sucker for a great jazz vocalist,” she said. “I took a lot of time -- this was not in college, but my own school -- studying Sarah Vaughan’s vocals and her approach, and Nina Simone -- singers who are slick but still smooth with a little bit of roughness around it," she said. "Whether I mimic that or not, I just enjoy singing that kind of music. One of my dreams is having a jazz record where I just sing jazz standards and things that feel good."
She’s touring with just two support musicians -- a small-scale band, something she hasn’t always had while carving out her niche as a cult favorite rather than someone with massive commercial success. The change has helped her keep on track with one of her main goals: “I don’t want to be redundant.
“I never want to get stuck with a sound or a tone,” she said. “It’s something I’ve avoided, because it’s easier to have the same tone on every record and people know what they’re getting from you. To me, that would be so boring.”
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