When we posted not long ago that audio samples from the upcoming Cherryholmes CD were available online, we teased that an interview would be forthcoming. And so it has come to pass.
Cia, banjo player, lead vocalist, and the senior member of the young Cherryholmes sibs, talked with us about Cherryholmes III – Don’t Believe, and what the family band has on tap in the next little while.
“We feel it is our finest work to date, and we have been told it has something for everyone. Our approach to bluegrass has allowed us reach a wide spectrum of musical tastes and genres. We are now playing all over the world, not just around the country, and are introducing bluegrass music everywhere to enthusiastic audiences.”
I first met the Cherryholmes in 2002 at the IBMA convention, held then in Louisville, KY. Cia was 18 and the band unknown when they performed on an auxiliary stage as part of a family band showcase. In perhaps the most meteoric rise in bluegrass history, they found themselves a big hit on the festival circuit in no time, and were selected as the IBMA Entertainers of the Year in 2005.
Longtime bluegrass fans know well the long-established tradition of family bands in the history of our music, starting with Bill Monroe who performed with his brother Charlie for several years before launching his Blue Grass Boys. These brother teams continued with the Stanleys, Osbornes and McReynolds boys, while The Carter Family notched radio hits with a parents and children format.
The Lewis Family cemented forever the bluegrass family band template, with retiring family members being replaced with children, grandchildren and their spouses over four generations. Now, the sight of two parents with their bluegrass brood on stage is a common one, with dozens of such groups plying their trade. You’d be hard pressed not to see one at most every bluegrass festival in the the US and Canada.
The Cherryholmes got their start in 1999, and have been growing and maturing musically since that time, as each of the four sibs (Cia, B.J., Skip and Molly) have developed into professional players and entertainers over the course of 8 years of constant touring. Perhaps most notable about this family band is the fact that they refuse to be pigeon-holed as such, and aren’t afraid to ruffle feathers in the bluegrass world.
They write the overwhelming bulk of the material they record, both together and alone. As Cia tells it…
“We had been writing songs for the album all year, and as we got closer to actually starting the recording process, we began narrowing our selections down, picking what we felt to be the strongest.
Occasionally, we will co-write with each other, but generally, we write individually. The co-writes on this album include the title track Don’t Believe by me and Skip, The Sailing Man by mom (Sandy) and me, and Traveler the uptempo tune by all four siblings. Collaboration generally occurs during the arrangement process.”
Cherryholmes III features 12 originals and one cover, a reworking of Devil In Disguise, which was brought into bluegrass by JD Crowe & The New South in ’73.
From their start as a fairly typical family band – mom and pop with cute kids – they have emerged as serious artists, with a distinctive band sound. With each release, the “kids” have come more and more into their own, and Cherryholmes III takes a more modern approach than anything they have recorded previously.
“Over the last nine years, our music has evolved, and while we didn’t consciously decide to change our sound on this album, it seemed to be the natural course our music was taking. As the band as well as the members have matured, the songwriting reflects a deeper connection between lyric and musical arrangement.
Our label [Skaggs Family] has always allowed and encouraged our creativity and has let us pretty much record as we want. Ricky has often said that we are redefining bluegrass, and that’s how we see the parameter for our music.”
Cia has surely received most of the media attention, both for her singing and her powerful banjo playing. A recent capsule review in USA Today raved about her voice – and includes a gem sure to delight her mom, Sandy.
“Cia Cherryholmes is bluegrass’ most stunning new female vocalist (sister Sandy is not far behind), as revealed on this captivating modal workout.”
But both of her brothers Skip and B.J., and sister Molly are taken seriously in the business as well. Each of the four sing lead vocals on the album, as does Sandy. Molly, the youngest Cherryholmes really steps out on this CD, showing herself to be a fine vocalist at 16 years old.
In fact, Molly contributed one of the most captivating elements on the new CD, the string arrangement on Broken, a brooding lament of a broken heart which Cia wrote and sings.
“From the early stages of Broken we toyed with the idea of adding orchestral parts. Molly began writing the string arrangement in her head, and when we went into the studio she began laying the parts; even renting a cello to lay that herself as well. She has always enjoyed listening to orchestral soundtracks but has never taken any kind of formal training.
Preparations are now in the making for a series of symphonic performances. Selections from Cherryholmes I, II, and III are being scored in order to add an orchestra to our normal stage shows for selected dates. Our first concert will be with the Portland Symphony on January 8th, 2009.”
If you check in with bluegrass radio, either online or over the air, you should be hearing cuts from Cherryholmes III, which won’t be officially released until September 30. It will delight the band’s many fans and likely win them a good many new ones as well.
New fans could be flocking to them in droves if one of the projects they are working on now comes to fruition – a reality TV show that would follow them on the road.
“We are still in the early stages of discussion, negotiating, and filming. They are still working on the basic pitch reel for TLC. We will post more information on our website as it unfolds.”
You can hear audio samples and place orders for Cherryholmes III on the Skaggs Family web site.