After recording four fine albums for Vanguard Records between 2004 and 2009, Mindy Smith opted to strike out on her own and release her self-titled 2012 set through her own Giant Leap imprint. Anyone familiar with the standard operating procedures of the music industry should in no way be surprised that Vanguard has taken the opportunity to make a few extra bucks off their investment in Smith as she promotes her new release by compiling The Essential, a 12-song overview of her tenure with the label. As such things go, The Essential serves Smith quite well; while this set somehow manages to bypass her lovely 2007 Christmas album My Holiday, it does include Smith's fine cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Little Lies," which was previously available only as a digital bonus track. The song selection favors Smith's debut album, One Moment More, featuring five of its 12 songs (including her superb rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," which was strong enough to make a fan of Parton herself), while four songs from the 2006 follow-up Long Island Shores appear here, and the relatively pop-oriented Stupid Love is represented with two songs. Given the consistent quality of Smith's work, it should come as no surprise that everything here is quite good, indicative of Smith's emotionally powerful vocals and perceptive songwriting, and The Essential is well sequenced, with the material flowing with the assurance of a "real" album and maintaining a consistent mood. Mindy Smith's albums have been good enough that all of them (even the Christmas album) will fare well as an introduction to her work, but as an overview of her first five years as a recording artist, The Essential confirms her strengths and does it with genuine care; all artists who have left their labels should be this lucky.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming