Ostensively written and recorded to commemorate Women’s History Month this past March, Matriarch Song & Verse from Coulee Creek is all the title suggests, a collection of songs and poems that describe the triumph and travails of those whose struggle for equal opportunity, and are often fraught with prejudice and persecution. Executive producer David Strudthoff, vocalist Sarah Jackson, and poet/narrator Rita Mae Reese take the lead roles here, but their inspiration is drawn from the seminal efforts of the female bluegrass and old time music pioneers Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, in both song and spirit. The arrangements — courtesy of Strudthoff on banjo, Michael James on dobro, Beth Becker on fiddle and cello, Tom Baker on guitar and bass, Brett Huus adding harmonica, Terry Nirva on the cajon, Josh Rabie playing mandolin, and CoryI Vought with vocal accompaniment — are restrained but assured, giving the songs the vintage, homespun feel that’s so definitive and desired.
The result is a decidedly honest attempt to convey a very personal perspective within traditional trappings, and on songs such as Follow The Music, Ramblin’ Woman, Custom Made Woman Blues, and Old Calloused Hands, spirit and sanctity become one. The participants were clearly devoted to the notion of giving a voice not only to women, but all those who are underserved by society. As a result, Strudthoff, Jackson, and Reese deserve credit for giving these tales the resolve and resilience they so clearly deserve.
It ought to be noted as well that $2 from each album sale goes to a women’s shelter, New Horizons of La Crosse, Wisconsin.
While the cause is well served and clearly worthwhile, archivists will find reason for added appreciation. There’s no attempt whatsoever to place the arrangements within a contemporary context, and as a result, the raw emotion makes an emphatic impact that’s enduring throughout.
Ultimately, Matriarch Song & Verse is a most meaningful venture, one that’s captured in the context of a singular seminal style. In that regard, it’s hard to imagine an album any more memorable or compelling than this.