“Aaaaaaall my girlfriends are gettin’ married…”
If you’ve heard that line delivered with an amped-up energy and an acerbic little drawl, you’ve been listening to Joanna Smith. And if you haven’t heard it, you need to get her on your radar.
Columbia Records held an eye-opening luncheon showcase for her Friday in the label’s cafeteria, an informal setting that allowed her to deliver an intimate little musical introduction. She sang just a handful of songs and introduced herself to a few Music Row decision-makers, including Grand Ole Opry Vice President Pete Fisher, and in the process, Joanna demonstrated some real potential with a spunky demeanor, forceful right-arm rhythms on her acoustic guitar and a clear, penetrating voice.
Her debut single, “Gettin’ Married,” just made its debut at No. 60 on the Billboard Country Songs chart, building its storyline around a woman’s lament over her peers’ trips down the wedding aisle and obsessions with babies.
The song sounded even better live than it does in the recording, but it’s another song about marriage that really stood out. “Borrowed Wedding Dress” is essentially a conversation between a mother and daughter in which the elder woman remembers her cheap wedding and paupers’ honeymoon, and then offers a reminder that relationships aren’t really about fancy nuptials and flashy rings.
“‘I do’ doesn’t mean any less in a borrowed wedding dress,” Joanna sang in the clinching line, and it produced that familiar lump-in-the-throat response.
Particularly rewarding was the fact that her songs came across like she meant them. Because she did. “Gettin’ Married” is a witty observation she made about the scads of women she knows tying the knot and/or having kids. “Borrowed Wedding Dress” is the result of a chat she had with her mom.
They are, she said, “true stories” — “That’s what country music’s all about.”
Joanna is apparently bred from good country stock. She hails from Crestview Unincorporated, a hole-in-the-wall spot in southwestern Georgia where she would “dream and run around barefoot and act the fool.” She speaks with phrases that could easily belong to Dolly Parton, and she’s got an accent just like Dolly, too. Joanna’s been in Nashville for six years and spent four of them working Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, the hideaway where the Opry stars and songwriters such as Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and Marty Robbins used to go for drinks when the business was still in its infancy.
That same business is now much more rigorous. There are videos to make and endless interview opportunities and wardrobe consultants and radio tours. Joanna’s in the middle of one right now, and it’s a good thing she’s got all that energy, because she’ll need it just to handle the travel. On Monday, she’s in Dover, N.H.; Boston and Providence, R.I. On Tuesday, she plays Syracuse; Springfield, Mass.; and Albany, N.Y. And on Wednesday she’ll go back to Syracuse, then venture out to Rochester and Buffalo. All of those trips are to meet radio programmers, who are in the position to decide if “Gettin’ Married” gets played on their stations. Those same people may later be making the same decision about “Borrowed Wedding Dress” or some other song from her debut album.
That doesn’t come out until next year, but she’s laying the groundwork for future success. Playing in a cafeteria probably doesn’t sound all that significant on the surface, but it was a pretty big deal to her. It was, after all, in the same building where she essentially auditioned for her record deal, and now she’s sung in that building for an audience that includes the man who programs the Opry. It is, she said, “surreal.”