Mindy’s sweet, sad ‘Holiday’ 

Any Scrooges out there having a crummy Christmas? Let Gothic-humored folk singer Mindy Smith provide holiday cheer.

She’ll do it with "My Holiday," her new Vanguard collection of Yuletide tunes, which has five originals and stellar guests such as Alison Krauss and Chely Wright.

She also has grim recollection of her worst Christmas ever, when she was 13 and residing with her minister father.

"Do you know what a puffback is?" she asks. Hint: It’s no magic dragon.

"We lived in a house next to the church called the parsonage," Smith says over a recent lunch. "And my parents had just found another home for us to live in, a bigger space, but we hadn’t moved yet. But on Christmas Day, the broiler backed up and there was a huge puffback in the parsonage, and it ruined everything. It wasn’t quite a fire, but all of the furniture was covered in soot, and we had to move the very next day. That was one particular Christmas I never forgot."

Smith’s misfortunes weren’t just seasonal. The singer was bullied by classmates wherever she moved — Long Island, Knoxville, Cincinnati — and discouraged by music teachers whenever she opened her mouth to sing.

"My passion was music, but it was a blessing and a curse," says Smith, 35. "I didn’t have a lot of support in school, so music was always a struggle for me, and I grew up frustrated and discouraged."

How did she muster the courage to complete two solo albums — "One Moment More" and "Long Island Shores" — let alone sing carols such as "Silver Bells" and "Away In a Manger"?

She says that nothing clicked until she was 25: "When I found out about open-mic nights, where you could go and share songs."

Working as a nanny and part-time cashier, Smith taught herself acoustic six-string and relocated to Nashville. It wasn’t easy.

"I was so afraid to play the guitar for people for so long, I used to get onstage and just hold my guitar and sing a cappella," she says. "I didn’t even play it. And I used to be so hard on myself when I messed up or my voice cracked, until I got to a point where I was fine with not being perfect. Now I leave the cracks in the songs on my records, because there’s a sense of ... of realness there."

Her late-blooming career has been running so smoothly, Smith adds, that her toughest challenge — except for the passing of her mother — was penning Noel-themed numbers in the middle of summer.

"It was tough," she says. "But the thing about writing a Christmas song is, you walk into it knowing what you get out of Christmas. So all these songs are about what my idea of the holiday is — that’s why the record’s called ‘My Holiday.’"

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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