Blessed with both a sense of mischief that gives her an intriguing perspective, and a thoughtful poet’s heart, Joanna Smith has a unique gift for bringing every day people and stories to life in her music. It’s that quality that earned her a place among the legends who have played Nashville’s famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and is making her one of the most talked about new artists in country music.
“I write like I talk,” Smith says in an engaging Georgia drawl. “It’s just the way that I express myself and the most honest I can be. Songs that have a true story inspiring them are the songs that reach people. I play them and I watch the crowd. I see what they react to and that helps me write better songs.”
Her Columbia Nashville debut is populated with images of small town life and love lessons learned. It’s as if listeners are reading pages ripped from her journal on songs such as “Farm Girl” and the clever “Gettin’ Married,” a raucous anthem about a single girl enduring her friends’ wedding plans as most of her posse seem to be taking the plunge into matrimony. “Jeffrey Steele and I were discussing when we were going to get together and write,” she recalls. “He was throwing out dates and every date he threw out I said I was out of town for a wedding. I was just exasperated and I said, ‘all my girlfriends are getting married! They are dropping like flies and they are popping out babies.’ He was like, ‘whoa, whoa, we’re writing that’ and that was it.”
Smith hails from Crestview Unincorporated, GA and she informed everyone early on that she was a country singer. “I lived on a farm and there wasn’t much going on out there,” says Smith, who is the seventh generation to grow up on her family’s farm. “We lived too far away from other kids and town to have too much of a normal social life, so I just lived in my own little world and music was my friend.”
When she was five, her mother entered her in the Little Miss King Cotton Horse Show Pageant. “I did my little interview this judge asked, ‘Now Joanna what would you like to be when you grow up?’ And I said, ‘well I already am a country music singer, a professional country music singer, I just don’t get to get up on stage much,” Smith recalls with a laugh. “That was the beginning. I had a gig the next weekend singing at the Little Miss Peanut Pageant. That was the definitely the beginning of my music career.”
After high school, she enrolled at Auburn University, her parents’ alma mater, but her dreams of a music career never faded. After her freshmen year, she moved to Nashville and threw herself into her songwriting. She also continued to hone her performance skills with a steady gig at Nashville’s famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. “It helped me immensely because you just have to be real,” she says. “It gave me time to learn. What can I do to take this lyric and this melody and express it through my voice? That was a big part of it for me and I loved it.”
Smith performed at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for four years before she was discovered and landed a record deal with Columbia Nashville. Produced by Jimmy Richey and Phillip White, Smith’s debut album not only showcases her distinctive vocal style, but her songwriting gift as well. “Borrowed Wedding Dress” is a song Smith wrote after a phone conversation with her mother about a lavish wedding in their small hometown. “She said ‘you should have seen the show they put on. The flowers must have cost more than my car’ and she was going on [saying] ‘I wish the best for them and I hope they make it, but I’m going to tell you something, when me and your daddy were married, I got married in a borrowed wedding dress. I borrowed it and returned it the next day and we are just as married.’ When she said that, she was being sassy and had no hint of self pity but it really affected me.”
Smith kept thinking about the title “Borrowed Wedding Dress” and when she sat down to write with her friend Leslie Satcher, the two women crafted the touching song and served up her Mama’s sage wisdom: “’I do’ doesn’t mean any less in a borrowed wedding dress.”
From heartfelt explorations on life and love to up tempo anthems, Smith’s debut is filled with memorable songs brought to life by her vibrant voice and sassy personality. Smith acknowledges “Farm Girl” is definitely the most autobiographical track. “That was the song that defined me as an artist. I was like, ‘okay, now I know who I am. That’s who I’ve always been,’” she says of the lyric which states: “I’m a farm girl living in a Facebook world. I used to walk barefoot to my mailbox, now I pull it up on my laptop. “That couldn’t be more the truth. I was such a country girl and then I moved to the big city of Nashville. Now I’m trying to make it in a modern world, but I’m still very much old school. I’m trying to find some place in between all that for myself.””
Smith co-wrote the single “Georgia Mud” with Jim McCormick and Aaron Scherz. “Aaron had the line about ‘bare feet hanging off the tire swing’ and he had that thump, thump, thump beat and I loved it,” Smith says of the song’s inception, “but I was trying to think of a nice way to tell him, I didn’t know if I should write this song because I have so many Georgia songs. I was trying to think in my head how to politely divert his attention from that title and then he started kind of playing me a little riff that he had and I said ‘okay let’s write it!’ It bumped another Georgia song off this record.”
As country radio and country audiences embrace the small town Georgia girl, her father’s advice continues to help her navigate her way. “Daddy used to tell me, ‘Joanna you just go out there and be you because nobody can be you like you can,’” she relates. “Now that I’m here and it’s all about discovering what makes you unique, that saying couldn’t have been anymore wise or true.”
There’s nobody like Joanna Smith. In a clear strong voice, tinged with Georgia twang, she sings songs about her life, and in doing so creates music that country fans see their own reflection in.
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