Just for What I Am
Bear Family's second Connie Smith box Just for What I Am picks up the story in 1968, when she was firmly established as one of the most popular female country singers of her era. She may have not achieved the iconic status of her peers Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette, but these five discs chronicling her complete RCA recordings between 1968 and 1972 make a strong case for Smith being in their artistic league. What distinguished Smith was her cool, authoritative ease, a skill that brought her to the attention of some of Nashville's finest songwriters. This means that even if Smith wasn't tearing up the charts -- she performed consistently and respectably, hitting the country Top Ten with regularity -- she had LPs that were stronger than most which, in turn, makes this box set thoroughly enjoyable. That's not to say there aren't a few slow spots along the way -- there is a slight dip in material toward the end of her RCA tenure, yet this is masqueraded by such highlights as an album devoted to Dallas Frazier songs partially cut with the man himself -- but Smith's strength was how she never made these slighter songs sound lesser. Of course, it also helps that her producers created lush, detailed settings for her, expanding Music City signatures like sweet strings and steel guitars with folk-rock flairs and pop orchestration. Sonically, this is good evidence that Nashville at the turn of the '70s had a broader reach than it did a decade earlier, and the songs are also more adventurous, something that may be easy to overlook due to Smith's cool, seemingly effortless touch. She may have been given some of the best songs, but the thing is, she deserved them: few others could give them grace and soul, as this always entertaining box amply proves.