January 19, 2009
On the surface, family bluegrass act Cherryholmes’ new single might seem to paint by a lot of standard Nashville numbers, but don’t let the use of over-exploited motifs (God, soldiers, solders’ families) distract you from how bold an effort it really is. Contemporary country in the 2000′s loves to find ways to tie whatever it’s talking about to Christianity, but it’s rare to hear a tie that really sounds inspired and personal, the way spiritual insights worth actually writing about should. “This Is My Son” is a beautiful example of a piece that manages to pull it off.
The song is written as a mother’s prayer to God that her son will remain safe while he’s away at war. Not a terribly objectionable set-up, but the kicker comes swiftly as the mother draws a parallel between her son potentially dying for “a people who don’t even care that they’re free at the cost of his life” and Christ having done the same. It’s a striking idea, one that serves to make the mother’s personal faith sound rich and thoughtful while also making a provocative statement about the way we as bystanders regard the wars our nations engage in and those who are directly impacted by them.
But my favorite aspect of the comparison is how it brings God’s sacrifice down to a human level, where it’s easier for us to fully understand its significance. My experience tells me that because Christians understand God to be too big and mysterious to fully understand, many of them tend to think about his reported Biblical works more dogmatically than personally. They’ll harp on about the significance of Him giving up His Son because those are the words to the story, but they won’t actually engage emotionally, because the God of the Bible seems more like a mysterious figure in history than a real, current presence to them.
Here, though, we have a case of a woman crying out to God because she thinks she might actually feel a slice of the suffering He did. She puts His sacrifice in a context we can all understand, and in doing so makes it seem like more than just an Important Story to memorize and restate each night as you get tucked in – or at least makes us understand why she feels that way about it.
And really, if the main objective of Christianity is to bring oneself closer to God, I have to imagine that a sense of shared suffering with Him really would do the trick much better than a hollow recitation of praise ever could. And I think that idea plays out here, too, because something in the record’s melody and vocal actually sounds very uplifted and resolved, as if the mother’s realization of this connection between herself and God has brought her a curious moment of joy in spite of her present torment. You can tell that she’s scared to death about what’s happening and angry at the world’s indifference, but her fear co-exists with faith, and the combination of the two makes her sound that much more genuine, even wise.
And in that sense, I think the song is more than just a study in one woman’s faith in God and love for her son; whether it was intended or not, the mother’s example seems to make an implicit cry to Christians and Americans to really consider the conceits of their faith and their country’s decisions in a more thoughtful, personal way if they hope to understand either one more fully – which, if nothing else, is certainly one heck of a message to send to country radio.
There are a few quibbles to be made: the piano and drums that have been added in for this radio mix clutter it up in spots, the song’s structure is a little clipped and clumsy, and you wind up wishing it had delved even deeper into the issues instead of just repeating the chorus a bunch of times and changing the key at the end. But Cia Cherryholmes’ tastefully emotive lead performance is a real treat, and the fact that she’s managed to compose a song about God and country that seems genuine, challenging and uplifting all at once tells me we’ve got quite a budding maverick on our hands. I’m impressed.
Written by Cia Leigh Cherryholmes
Listen: This Is My Son
Country radio version:
Original album version: