[19 March 2014]
The phrase “Southern comfort” evokes many clichés of the South whether it’s the hospitality, slower, lazier pace of life, or those traditional, and core values. Sure what is perceived can be blatant misconception, but more often than not, “Southern” carries certain associations and assumptions. On her latest LP, Southern Comfort, prodigiously gifted violinist Regina Carter seeks to represent that Southern comfort musically. In fact, Carter researched the folk music of the South. Covering traditional southern songs as well as a couple of notable classics courtesy of Gram Parsons, Dennis McGhee, and Hank Williams, Southern Comfort ends up being eclectic and superbly constructed. Although both the South and the past (she chose songs her Grandfather might’ve listened to) is at its core, that doesn’t limit Carter in the least. She flexes her musical muscles in a variety of ways.
“Miner’s Child” starts Southern Comfort off, driven by its rhythmic intensity. Accompaniment by guitar serves as a sound backdrop for Carter to play atop initially, instantly compelling with her prodigious violin skills. Eventually, the full arsenal is unleashed, with bass and according playing gargantuan roles. Throughout its five-minute duration, “Miner’s Child” maintains intensity and interest, setting the Southern, traditional folksy tone of the album. A second consecutive traditional number follows in “Trampin’”. Although a traditional spiritual, “Trampin’” receives funk-oriented treatment thanks to its groove. Carter thrives in the funkiness, eventually carrying the melody initially carried by vocals (“I’m trampin’, trampin’ / trying to make heaven my home”). As captivating as “Miner’s Child” is, Carter certainly seems in it to win it on Southern Comfort, as Randy Jackson might put it, dawgs.
Better than “Trampin’” is a beautiful cover of the Parsons-penned Byrds’ classic, “Hickory Wind”. Changing the pace from traditional gospel to country, Carter and her supporting cast also slow the tempo, making “Hickory Wind” an embodiment of Southern comfort. Lazy, but in energetic fashion, Carter’s violin tone continues to captivate, filled with passion and nuance. Among the best moments is when the upright bass switches roles, carrying the melody. The common countrified ending is another sound touch. Keeping the momentum flowing, “Shoo-Rye” returns to the traditional for inspiration. Carter’s tremendous technique shines through the studio recording sans the visual. As stimulating as “Shoo-Rye” is throughout, the most exciting portion comes in the closing minute, particularly the enthusiasm of the violin and the percussive stroke of the drums. The final hit, much like the coda of “Hickory Wind”, leaves a lasting impression that effectively signals closure.
“Blues de Basile” rolls right along, with the mainstay accordion continuing to play an important accompaniment role. The blend with Carter’s violin continues to create a stunning timbre that’s incredibly divine to the ear. “I’m Going Home” once more brings contrasts to the picture, delivering yet another traditional number. Moody and dirge-like matching its title, “I’m Going Home” is seven minutes of top-notch musicianship. Carter shines as she ascends into the upper register of the violin. Continuing to play upon contrast, “Honky Tonkin’” gives Southern Comfort a Hank Williams joint, filled with trading solo turns from violin, electric guitar, and accordion. Making “Honky Tonkin’” even better is the asymmetric meter, which adds an angularity and additional rawness to the song. Again, the bass gets in on the action, leading the charge at the end of the cut.
The remainder of Southern Comfort relies on traditional songs. “Cornbread Crumbled in Gravy” possesses an alluring moodiness and mysteriousness, driven by its overall tone. Again, the accordion plays a key role, providing the harmonic support, notably underneath a soloing guitar. “See See Rider” is even stronger, benefiting from its gradual pacing, eventually incorporating the full array of instrumentation and intensity. Once the arrangement opens up, so does Carter, who delivers one of the album’s most compelling solos.
“I Moaned and I Moaned” is both a pleasant and shocking surprise, sporting a rock edge. The chemistry between violin and electric guitar is exceptional. While violin has been used in rock music throughout the years, it is still remains a bit difficult to associate the instrument with the style. Carter, unsurprisingly, does it like a champ. “Death Have Mercy/ Breakaway” doesn’t disappoint, concluding the effort exceptionally. After an unstable start in regards to tempo, a stable groove is established, with clarity supplanting raucousness.
Throughout its course, Southern Comfort is a polished, incredibly intelligent LP. Regina Carter never misses the mark, continually impressing with her incredible violin skill and thoughtful choice of material. Ultimately, Southern Comfort lacks any serious flaws, making it one of the year’s best efforts as of yet. Sophisticated and classy, Carter has a true winner on her hands.