Singer-songwriter Jo Smith, a newcomer to Montana but a seasoned music maker, returns to country music with a fresh sound and an independent spirit.
With her new single Wyoming, Smith crafts a musical movie, as captivating as the western landscape itself.
“I was inspired on a trip out West when I saw the big sky and the Rockies for the first time,” she says.
The breathtaking beauty and a sense of danger provide the backdrop for this traditional yet unconventional heartbreak story. Now, having moved to Montana and weathered 2020, the recording feels especially timely. “It seems that everyone can relate to the experience of unexpected loss,” she says.
Indeed. The setting, the fiddle and the steel, and the heartbreak feel as old as time, but the emotion is new, startling and present. Even Vince Gill was swept away and contributes one of his most heart-wrenching harmony performances to date.
“Wyoming” is the musical counterpart to the viewer-obsessed series “Yellowstone”: familiar but fresh, as traditional as it gets, yet perfect for the times.
The track is deep and wide, and it reflects much about the singer herself. Smith moved to Nashville in 2004, the year “making it” moved from honky-tonks on lower Broadway to the insta-fame of American Idol. But Smith stayed her course, following the advice of the only friend she had in Nashville at the time, Luke Bryan.
“He told me, ‘Joanna, you need to learn how to write and sing your own songs, and then you need to be able to play them, right by yourself, on your guitar.’”
“I see him on American Idol now, and sometimes the irony makes me chuckle,” she says. “But I’ve never regretted taking his advice.”
Smith wrote songs for herself and for others (Billy Ray Cyrus, Cody Johnson, Taylor Hicks, Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan), but after 15 years on Music Row and two record deals (RCA and SMACKSongs), Smith decided it was time for a dramatic change: to go it alone, again.
She finished her International Politics degree at Vanderbilt University, and landed a job working for the U.S. Department of State in Mogadishu, Somalia. “It seems strange but working in a war zone allowed me to reconnect with real life and it also paid enough to allow me to record the songs I love the way I want to, and release them independently.”
“Wyoming” is the first single from a forthcoming album of the same name. Smith has been around the block and around the world (she is now an officer in the Navy Reserve), and in this, her first offering as an independent artist, she goes back to her beginnings both personally and musically.
Drawing from the inspiration of growing up on a remote cattle farm in South Georgia, Smith credits her musical and lyrical depth, old soul, and her need to escape through song to her upbringing.
“There was nothing better than growing up on a working farm, and it gave me a strong sense of home,” she writes. But it also fostered a strong sense of wanderlust only songs could satisfy. “I hope Wyoming allows people to escape to a beautiful place in that same way.”
Catch up with Smith through her BackStories and big sky country content via Instagram/Facebook/Twitter: @josmithmusic and on YouTube.