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Cherryholmes: Sweet Family Harmony

Inspired by a 1999 trip to a bluegrass festival, the Cherryholmes family took up instruments and started writing songs. It was just for fun at first, but within five years, they found themselves signed to Ricky Skaggs' record label, playing the Grand Ole Opry and winning awards for their music. They just released their third CD, Cherryholmes III: Don't Believe.

Playing bluegrass requires intense technical skill. Given all the fleet-fingered picking of acoustic instruments, the lack of amplifiers or electronic distortion, and the absence of drums to prop up the notes, you'd think it would take a lifetime to get really good at it. Cherryholmes is one exception to the rule. Bluegrass wasn't always a big part of the family's lives, yet they reel off songs with such ease, it's hard to imagine that they've been playing for only a few years.

For the Cherryholmes family, bluegrass was more than just a pastime that became a career. It was cathartic for dealing with the death of the Cherryholmes' oldest child, Shelley. Shelley's passing led the family to take that road trip to its very first bluegrass festival, and playing together was a way to keep the family close. On their new CD, the band is still dealing with profound emotions through their music, like Cia Cherryholmes' "This Is My Son," a song about a parent sending her child off to war.

Since four members of the family are in their teens and early 20s, it's not surprising that their songwriting is often focused on the early strains of heartbreak. The group even picked out a cover song — "Devil in Disguise," co-written by Gram Parsons — that adds an edge to their lovesick bluegrass. The song also gives the Cherryholmes family a chance to demonstrate skill at that other bluegrass essential: harmonies, especially those that are genetically linked. There's no sound quite like family harmony, and you don't have to be in a band to appreciate that.

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Meredith Ochs