On Regina Carter's Southern Comfort, her Sony Masterworks debut, the Detroit-born violinist continues the musical journey of self-discovery that began with 2006's I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey, a collection of her mother's favorite jazz standards. She followed it with 2010's Reverse Thread, a brilliant collection of traditional and modern African songs. Southern Comfort traces her father's side of history through the music of America's Deep South. Assisted in performing and arranging by her own band and some helpful studio aces, Carter delivers a program that weds the America's Southern heritage in folks songs -- gospel, spirituals, child ballads, blues -- through to its cultural evolution in the mid-20th century's country music, jazz, and R&B. She and her collaborators spent months researching material from the Smithsonian collections to more mercurial and familial sources. Opener "Miner's Child" (adapted from Dock Boggs' "Prayer of a Miner's Child," itself an adaptation) relates directly to her grandfather -- a coal miner she never met. Her violin rides atop Will Holhouser's accordion, Marvin Sewell's blues- and bluegrass-inflected guitar picking, Alvester Garnett's rumbling tom-toms, and rolling bassline from Jesse Murphy. The modern arrangement keeps the raw grain of the original in context. Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" is rendered with heartbreaking tenderness as violin and accordion sing directly to one another and the electric guitar functions like a weeping pedal steel. This is Carter at her most economical, though she omits nothing of the song's melodic power. "Shoo-Rye" is an Appalachian children's song that reveals its Cajun fiddle roots and further evolves into modern jazz. "I'm Goin' Home," a traditional spiritual arranged by guitarist Adam Rogers, is spacious and contemplative as guitar and accordion reflect reverence and longing. Hank Williams' "Honky Tonkin' weds jazz, country, and R&B in this Rogers arrangement with stellar soloing by Carter, Holhouser, and the guitarist, with killer breaks by Garnett. "Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy" arranged by Xavier Davis, is rife with classical counterpoint and flamenco cadences yet never loses its root melody. The earthy reading of "See See Rider" here is not inspired by Wayne Cochran's classic take, but an earlier version by a rural, all-girl school chorus. Stefon Harris arranged the album-closing medley of "Death Have Mercy/Breakaway." Led by handclaps, and electric and acoustic guitars, they meld blues, singalong work songs, and pre-WWII African gospel, and are infused with highlife-like rhythms, and link directly and effectively to Reverse Thread. "Trampin'" is an old blues tune where the sampled field recording vocal is floated over a greasy, funky, NOLA-inspired second-line rhythm as Carter digs in and bridges the gap with grit and fire. Southern Comfort is classic Carter. She approaches this material with personal and historical curiosity as well as emotional honesty. For her, musical sophistication and lineage traditions are inseparable.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek