Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Albert Brooks and Andrzej Pilarczyk
If you’re lucky, you learn something new every day. For instance, during a break in Regina Carter’s appearance at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre, I learned that Carter’s exploration of her family heritage had included getting her DNA tested. The test results showed the Detroit native was 77 percent West African and 13 percent Finnish. “That tells you a lot about my family,” Carter laughed.
Even without the scientific angle, we’ve been able to walk with Carter through her family’s past for a few years now: Her 2006 release I’ll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey was a tribute to her late mother and the songs of her era, while 2010’s Reverse Thread delved deeply into African folk music. Carter’s latest release Southern Comfort shows how the music on Reverse Thread came to America and was absorbed into Appalachia and – eventually – her grandmother’s home in Alabama. As interesting as that sounds, there were some doubts this project could top the thrilling sounds that came out of Thread. By the time Carter and her quintet were finished, those doubts were adamantly crushed.
As the lights went down and Egg impresario Peter Lesser left the stage, a scratchy recording of an old-time gospel singer started playing over the sound system. This was one of many field recordings from (among other places) the Lomax Family Collections that inspired Carter through this project’s development. As the singer faded out, guitarist Marvin Sewell and bassist Chris Lightcap eased into a warm meditation; Carter stepped onstage after the tone had been established and began bowing over their chording. Sewell and accordionist Will Holshauer went into a subtle vamp, and the band dove into Stefon Harris’ swirling arrangement of “Death Have Mercy/Breakaway.”