Mindy Smith answers the phone with a distinctive Long Island squawk that a decade in Tennessee has done little to sandpaper away. “Nesconset,” she chirps. “Exit 56.” Long Island hasn’t historically inspired many Nashville songwriters, but Smith—a folk-influenced country singer whose spooky 2003 cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” became a hit on Country Music Television—put her childhood home to good use on her second album, Long Island Shores.
Her adolescence there was something less than idyllic, she says. She spent most of her time “trying not to exist.” Immersed in the Cure and the Sundays during the week—“I wasn’t even cool enough to be a goth”—she sang weekends at the Nesconset Church of Christ, where her mother was choir director and her father was the minister. She left the island at 19, first for seminary school in Cincinnati and, later, to Tennessee, where she’s been ever since.
Smith’s songs are powerful and claustrophobic—they have the emotional impact of her heroes Bonnie Raitt and Patty Griffin but are delivered with an affecting fragility. The new album’s title track, inspired by a recent return to Long Island for a family reunion, is a lean and elegant ode to the corner church, the harbor wind, the impermanence of home. “No one’s done a song about how beautiful Long Island is,” she says. “So many of us who live there are so unspoken for.”
—Long Island Shores, Vanguard; October 10. Next: Yo La Tengo Pick a Fight