If one were to view the history of American music as a collection of rivers, there would be many points where tributaries cross. Jazz violinist Regina Carter has mapped out Southern Comfort as an exploration of these waterways, visiting the traditions of African-American Appalachian string bands, blues, and Cajun music where they crisscross with folk and country. She takes the traditions to some unusual places. "Miner's Child" shows how naturally a Scotch-hinted bluegrass melody can flow over African-inspired rhythms, while "Trampin'" draws a line from rural blues to city funk with throbbing bass and drums. Hank Williams Sr.'s "Honky Tonkin'" takes a trip to N'awlins with some of that city's stirring march rhythms, and Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind" is as sophisticatedly elegiac as a Bach fugue. The album's closer medley, "Death Have Mercy/Breakaway," is a tour de force that weaves together many strands to form a tapestry: Hints of melody from the British Isles, rhythms from the Caribbean and West Africa, lilt from the Cajun South, and persuasive swing from uptown Saturday night all come together.
Throughout her career, Carter has always been eclectic in her approach, straddling jazz's mainstream and avant-garde zones — along with the European classical tradition — with equal ease. Comfort demonstrates that she shines in other aspects of American music, as well. (Sony Masterworks)