I will confess that, as a general rule, I prefer men's voices to women's in the roots/folk/alt-country world. It's not a sexist thing (at least I hope not). It's just that there's a largely interchangeable passel of women making this music -- Kasey Chambers, Tift Merritt, Julie Miller, Kim Richey, Anne McCue, Dar Williams, Allison Moorer, Kathleen Edwards, etc. They're not bad, but they don't make me sit up and pay close attention, either. They're pleasant. And Lucinda Williams, Neko Case and Iris Dement stand out for me in this world for the precise reason that they are not pleasant; Lucinda because she is raw and gritty, and Neko and Iris because they have those knockout truckstop jukebox voices that can cut through a room full of rowdy bar patrons.
So I've been listening to Mindy Smith's new album Long Island Shores (due out October 11th), and it's a pleasant surprise -- pleasant because she has the kind of sweetly aching soprano that fits in well with the interchangeable sisters, and a surprise because she writes some really, really great songs. Mindy is a Paste Magazine favorite, so I tried to like One Moment More, her debut album from a couple years back, and which featured the semi-hit "Come to Jesus." That song received a lot of airplay on CMT and garnered her a couple CMA nominations. But it sounded like it belonged on a Twila Paris CCM album; it didn't do a thing for me. I think it's swell that Mindy loves Jesus. I just wish she had written a less lobotomized song about it.
So I wasn't fully prepared for Long Island Shores. Mindy still loves Jesus. That's good. But her new songs are full of tension and conflict. They sound a lot less like poster slogans and a lot more like a Christian wrestling with real, three-dimensional life. The musical accompaniment (acoustic guitar, pedal steel, dobro) is less polite and more raw. And Mindy still has a sweetly aching soprano that reminds me of Emmylou before she lost that vocal purity because of age and cigarettes.
It's a really fine album, and it's worth the wait.