When it comes to the violin, Regina Carter can do it all.
Although certainly best known as a jazz violinist, Carter seems comfortable enough playing the classical repertoire when called upon. Witness her 2003 album Paganini: After a Dream. And now with her new album, Southern Comfort, set for release March 4, she is out to show one more of the many faces of Regina Carter as she tackles a program of southern folk music and Americana. Needless to say, she takes this music and makes it her own.
As on some of her past albums, Southern Comfort is a thematic celebration of an important influence on her life and music. There was I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (2006) which focused on jazz favorites of her late mother, and then in 2010 there was her nod to the African influence on her musical heritage, Reverse Thread. In Southern Comfort, she explores some of the music that would have been available to her grandfather, an Alabama coal miner. She adds a modern tune or two, but even the additions are couched in the spirit of the album’s theme—a little Cajun-style fiddling, some work songs, a homey lullaby, and a bit of the gospel spirit.
As she points out in the album’s liner notes, while this music has a personal significance for her, it is indeed “the common experience of American folk music.” The personal is indeed universal.
The 11-song set begins appropriately with a traditional piece called “Miner’s Child” in an arrangement by guitarist Marvin Sewell. With some exceptions, most of the songs were arranged by instrumentalists playing on the individual tracks. Carter points out that the only direction she gave to the various arrangers “was to preserve the music’s raw beauty.”
There is a haunting version of Gram Parsons’ lovely “Hickory Wind” and a take of “Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy” reeking with sensitive simplicity. There is also a little vocal passage of this at the end of the album’s final track, “Death Have Mercy”/”Breakaway.”
“Blues de Basile” is a tangy Cajun blues, while the hugely popular “See See Rider” is played in a version I had never heard before. Elsewhere, “I’m Going Home” is a lovely melody, not to be confused with Dvorak.
Joining Carter on most tracks are Will Holshouser on accordion, Jesse Murphy on bass, Alvester Garnett on drums, and Sewell on guitar. Together with Carter, they have put together a truly exciting piece of work with a unique sound.