October 8, 2008
Upon listening to Cherryholmes’ latest album, Cherryholmes III: Don’t Believe, you’ll remember, if you’ve been ambivalent of late, why you love music. Because at the end of the day, bluegrass is one of the last honest forms of music: it’s real, it’s tangible, it’s grounded, it requires heart and talent, and it can’t be faked. In an era where image is everything, and substance and talent seemingly count for little, bluegrass is one of the last great refuges for music lovers.
Continuing the long tradition of family bands in bluegrass, all six members of the Cherryholmes family contribute their unique talents to this album: Cia Cherryholmes, 25, a fast and powerful banjo player, wrote or co-wrote seven of the twelve tracks, and takes lead vocals on four of them; Molly Cherryholmes, 16, contributes lead vocals, orchestral arrangements, songwriting and a fine fiddle; Sandy Cherryholmes, the matriarch, takes lead vocals on two songs and plays a mean mandolin and clawhammer banjo; Skip Cherryholmes, 19, contributes fast picking and rhythm guitar and takes lead vocals on one track; B.J. Cherryholmes, 21, contributes a fast fiddle, lead vocals and composed two of the instrumental tracks; and finally, Jere Cherryholmes, the patriarch, grounds the group with his supporting vocals and bass playing.
The family approach, which characterizes both the look and sound of the band, is what makes Cherryholmes III: Don’t Believe special. Five different singers—male and female, young and old—take the lead on the album, contributing to a sound that is timeless yet progressive. Instead of feeling disjointed, the back and forth between the ages and the sexes, takes the listener on a journey—one with immense variety, depth and spirituality. The first four songs perfectly encapsulate that journey, moving from the young broken heart of “I Can Only Love You (So Much)” to the wise faith of “The King As A Babe Comes Down,” to the blistering critique of those who blindly follow in “Don’t Believe” and finally to the resigned sacrifice in “This is My Son.”
As it does in their lives shows, the unmistakable sound and feel of Ireland floats through the album. Both Jere and Sandy Cherryholmes had a strong background in Celtic music before the formation of Cherryholmes in 1999, and that strong Celtic undercurrent is readily apparent on the album, particularly in the two songs on which Sandy sings lead vocals—the soaring “The King As A Babe Comes Down” and the jangly toe-tapper “The Sailing Man”—BJ’s Cherryholmes’ instrumental “Mansker Spree/O’Coughlin’s Reel” and the song at the heart of the album—“Broken.”
“Broken,” perhaps the best song on the album, is a haunting song with a fierce string arrangement about a woman who dies alone with a shattered heart. Those already familiar with Cherryholmes’ music will continue to appreciate the gorgeous vocal stylings of Cia Cherryholmes. However, this album reveals a new star in the Cherryholmes family—16-year-old Molly. Not only did Molly write and sing the lead vocals on “Goodbye,” a song about saying goodbye to a love who played you for a fool, but she composed the excellent orchestral arrangement on “Broken.” Molly’s rich voice and undeniable ear for music belies her 16 years and makes her an exciting one to watch in the future.
If you’ve never given bluegrass a chance before, there is no time like the present and this album to start. From beginning to end, Cherryholmes challenges and transports the listener both lyrically and musically, combining the best of the past with a fresh take on the future.