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Valerie Smith overcomes storms

By Rick Teverbaugh, November 2002

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Smith isn't one of those artists who wants to run the modern country off the radio. "I don't have a problem with that sound," she said. "I'd just like for there to be more variety. I like a lot of the modern country."

The radio seems to be expanding the opportunity for bluegrass. The stations that program it are on the rise, and the average number of hours per week for the genre has increased from just over two to nearly six.

Yet, Smith admits that mainstream country radio is probably still not the best chance for bluegrass and traditional country music to get exposure. Fortunately and perhaps ironically, today's technology advances are making more of this music easily available to those who will take the time to go out and seek it.

"I think with satellite radio becoming more and more popular at home and in cars that this music will get out there," says Smith. "There is so ' much available to the listener right now, it's just wonderful. I can only see things get better."

Some examples of how things are getting better can be found on the road.

"We're playing bluegrass festivals that have been getting record attendance," says Smith. "We've played festivals where we've been the only bluegrass group and still have gotten good response."

Smith has also gotten good response to "No Summer Storm," which has been gratifying to both sides of her singer/songwriter equation. "I really didn't know what type of reaction there would be until I went out on the road," says Smith. "I felt we'd made a good record. I was proud of it. It has an edge to it that the previous records didn't have. It seemed to work so well that my feeling is we'll try it again on the next record."

Smith has both sides of the singer/songwriter equation filled. "I don't separate the writing from the singing," says Smith. "To me, they both go together. You can't have a great vocal on a poor song, and a song isn't good unless it's sung well."

But she wrote only two of the songs on the new disc. "I don't consider myself a heavy duty songwriter," admits Smith. "I write when I feel like I have something to say. I usually can't just sit down and decide it's time to write something. Even after I do I look at the song and often I decide it's not the strongest song of the batch that I'm considering."

So, she is left with the same chore that faces a lot of contemporary singers - finding material. It is a tough job to get in touch with material and then to make a decision about what to select. The band members get into the act by suggesting things they have come across in their libraries or their listening experiences.

For Smith, the whole process is a very inexact science. "For me it's an instinct thing," she says. "I look at the lyrics first. When someone sends me a song, I always like it when they include the lyrics. That way I can sit down and read them to find out if they say something to me. Then I'll consider the melody. I always try to picture myself singing the song and see if I think I would be convincing singing this song."

Even if Smith were a more prolific writer she would still be very cautious about using just her own material to fashion an album.

"I would be afraid the whole disc would end up sounding alike," says Smith. "That wouldn't be very interesting."

Becky Buller and Randall Conn wrote one of the new album's songs, "Jacob Spence," and that's an option for material she is likely to explore more as the group gains more cohesion and familiarity with one another.

The current tour will need to come to an end soon as Smith and her husband are expecting a child in four months, but she is looking upon the impending birth as something to enrich her life and not something that will mean an end to this blossoming career.

You can't tell she's pregnant by looking at her demanding schedule, which included a large number of dates in Germany at the end of October. She has also purchased a new bus, which is being remodeled to make the entire touring experience more comfortable for the band. It doesn't sound like this act has any intention of slowing down soon.

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