For her debut recording as a leader, post-Straight Ahead violinist Regina Carter plays marvelously, improvises well, and has a tone that is typically soaring, clear, and at times mournful. Victor Bailey’s production values and songs (he wrote three) have a profound effect on the result of this music, which mostly ranges from pop-funk to smooth instrumentals. Carter wrote or co-wrote six of the ten tracks, but this is not to say it’s all samey and predictable. The highlight is the Mark Helias piece “Beau Regard” in a 6/8 rhythm, where trombonist Steve Turre and Carter play wonderfully rich unison lines while pianist Rachel Z embellishes with her own gossamer-like, forward-moving runs. Exuding true, pure soul, Carter and bassist Lonnie Plaxico interpret the Billie Holiday epic “Don’t Explain” with no help. It’s a tour de force of restrained response and a deeply felt, imaginative interpretation. Though barely two minutes each, the two “Sticks & Stones” tracks (the “Sticks” version and the “Stones” version) join Carter and djembe player Abdulai Epizo Bangoura for a violin vamp and percussion workout. The rest of the material lies in the R&B/pop vein, and holds little interest on a jazz, smooth jazz, or commercial level. The lyrics are one-liners, the instrumental passages are not exciting or vital, and though Carter’s improvisations are intriguing, they are not enough to lift tunes like “I Wanna Talk to You,” “When I Hear Your Name,” “Ain’t Nobody,” and “The Last Time…” past a vapid vanishing point. However, artistry wins out in the end, and Carter’s got more than enough of that. Pass on this one but watch for future volumes where she will shine on the strength of her musicianship, not a produced notion.