Long Island Shores is Mindy Smith’s follow-up to her 2004 debut, the acclaimed One Moment More, which has sold more than 250,000 copies—a remarkable number for an indie artist with little radio play. The second album finds Smith still looking upward for deliverance, but instead of fighting outward forces, her battle has turned inward. The record begins with a song that prays for guidance and sustenance, and ends by gently pleading, “I need peace of mind and a hopeful heart / To lose this rage and move out of the dark.”
Those bookends set the tone for the toil and beautiful despair found on the remaining tracks. On “Out of Control,” for example, Smith yearns to let go of demons, even as she celebrates her pain. She can’t deny her scars, she intimates in one line, but then wonders why she dwells on them so intently. “I keep the light low, and they still show,” she sings in a voice of smoked crystal. “I sit and count every stitch.”
That theme gets reworked throughout Shores, as Smith ponders emotional pain in songs that, despite her vulnerabilities, illustrate movement toward self-acceptance and a sense of meaning. Smith’s creative command emerges as she avoids lyrical and musical clichés, managing to sound buoyant and hopeful while peering into her own darkness.
Her arrangements are only occasionally delicate, as she often underpins her words with dark rhythms and atmospheric accents, as on the haunting slide guitar lines in the background of “Little Devil,” which keep her from sounding like another diary-writing waif with an acoustic guitar. She records a majority of her songs with veteran Nashville roots musicians, but balances it by spicing several cuts with younger musicians from the rockier side of town.
The majority of Long Island Shores is produced by Smith with guitarist Lex Price and Music Row veteran Steve Buckingham, and features a band centered on the well-oiled rhythm section of bassist Michael Rhodes and drummer Eddy Bayers, with Buddy Miller’s deep grooves on electric guitar, Bryan Sutton’s fleet lightness on acoustic guitar and Reese Wynans’ moaning B3 accents on organ. But on four tracks, she works with rock producer Roger Moutenot, who employs a mix of club rockers and studio vets to create an edgier sound.
Smith vacillates between roughness and delicacy, and her voice works well both ways, sounding like Amy Lee’s calmer, wiser older sister on grittier numbers like “I’m Not the One Asking,” and like Emmylou Harris’ thoughtful, melancholy daughter on the gentler tunes, as on “You Just Forgot.”
On her debut, One Moment More, Smith opened up in tender yet steel-ribbed verse about her climb from orphan girl to fiercely self-reliant artist. Her songs, haunting and evocative, used compelling metaphors and direct words to address how she’d confronted a series of disappointments in life, love and career, often at the hands of those who wanted to change her and exert control over her.
Though dealing with dark topics, Smith rose above her torment, as if overcoming difficulties only made her more determined to live and make music on her own terms. Mostly, though, she won people over with the compelling images of her songwriting and her wondrous voice, a sweet-toned instrument with just enough sand in it to bring a touch of grittiness to its fragile clarity. Smith sings with a natural intimacy, yet her range is wide, and together that brings a sense of drama and realism to her work.
In the years leading up to her debut, she’d left contemporary Christian music after becoming disillusioned with the deception and hypocrisy she confronted. Soon courted heavily by major labels, she decided to go with independent Vanguard Records because the bigger labels wouldn’t promise that she’d be able to record only her own songs and control her arrangements and production.
Her dogged determination, in the end, worked in her favor. One Moment More was embraced nationwide by fans and critics. Smith found herself championed by such diverse supporters as CMT.com, John Prine, Dolly Parton and TheNew York Times. Her songs were heralded by Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt, and covered by Alison Krauss and Maura O’Connell—all of them renowned for their good taste in finding material and discovering new writers.
Part of what makes Smith so bold is how unapologetically she brings religion into her tunes. She doesn’t preach or testify; she simply refers to her faith as part of what she turns to when looking for consistency and hope.
“Yours is a bright light / A soul on fire / My inspiration / You take my spirit higher,” she sings on one of the album’s best songs, “Please Stay.” She could be addressing her lover or her savior, and in the end, it doesn’t matter which it is. What matters is how vividly she describes her desire to keep that spirit climbing forward.