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Digging deeply into our musical roots

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Saturday April 19, 2014

From The Chicago Tribune

Digging deeply into our musical roots
By: Howard Reich

…Sharing a double-bill, they took on a vast swath of musical culture in America reaching back in time, from the civil rights anthems Staples dispatched with fire to the old Appalachian folk tunes Carter played as if born to that era. The spirit of folkloric American song filled this night, inspiring the audience to get up on its feet more than once, as if to lay claim to a music that truly does belong to all of us.

Violinist Carter – a musical free-thinker who won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006 – opened the evening and established its historic template, drawing from the ethereal repertoire on her new “Southern Comfort” album. To prepare to make it, Carter researched the field recordings of John Work III, Alan Lomax and other intrepid souls who long ago took their bulky old equipment into rural settings and captured songs and manners of singing and playing that otherwise would have been lost.

Then Carter commissioned arrangements that evoked early Americana, gathering around her instrumentalists attuned to the soft-spoken aesthetic of an earlier era.

Carter, however, remained the centerpiece of all of this, her violin giving voice to songs reflecting the convergence of cultures that built American music from the start. You could hear African-American chant, traditional Scottish and Irish melody and much more in this repertory, Carter slip-sliding around pitches and improvising on dance rhythms much as our forebears once did.

But Carter, a violinist of considerable accomplishment, played with a tonal luster and technical acuity one rarely encounters in this music these days, rendering it all the more expressive.

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