Whether or not Regina Carter intended to create a trilogy, Southern Comfort is the third piece in a series that began with 2006’s I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey and continued with 2010’s Reverse Thread. On the former, the violinist reimagined 20th-century popular songs favored by her late mother—music sourced from Ella, Rodgers and Hart, Ellington and the like—while on the more recent set she looked to traditional and contemporary African music for inspiration. This time Carter honors her coalminer grandfather by connecting with music he might have heard: Appalachian and Cajun fiddle tunes, folksongs, blues, country and gospel tunes, some found on century-old field recordings. That she ties the strands together cohesively and makes the music her own is a testament to Carter’s transformative gift.
Southern Comfort is as likely to be savored by Americana acolytes as by Carter’s existing jazz audience, but she’s unafraid to play fast and loose with any notion of what exactly Americana is. Her “See See Rider,” arranged by guitarist Adam Rogers, takes on more of a pronounced swing than the ancient blues staple is accustomed to, and Carter has a ball rockin’ up Hank Williams’ “Honky Tonkin’” to a NOLA second-line. Vibraphonist Stefon Harris’ program-closing medley of the trad folk numbers “Death Have Mercy” and “Breakaway” meanders freely at first, then slides into a playful lilt. Carter’s precise but gentle bowing locks in to a chattering conversation with Will Holshouser’s accordion and drummer Alvester Garnett’s snappy licks until it all flitters away into nothingness. The ensemble’s take on country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons’ “Hickory Wind” is serene and savory, especially coming directly after the deep funk of “Trampin’,” its voodoo vibe tempered by bassist Jesse Murphy’s anodyne rhythmic loops.