Four qualities that I appreciate in contemporary country music: (1) distinct, colorful vocals, (2) beautiful, engaging melodies, (3) simple, unobtrusive country-flavored instrumentation, (4) darn good songwriting. With that in mind, it certainly comes as no surprise that I would fall for the charming self-titled debut album from Arkansas trio Edens Edge, as it possesses all four of those qualities in spades.
Without a doubt, the band boasts a strong, effective, and gifted frontwoman in lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock. On each song she pours her voice into, she displays a unique talent for delivering thoughtful, layered vocal interpretations that come across as being uniquely hers. This is evident in the numerous personal touches she adds to the songs. You can almost hear the sly grin on her face as she softly says “Splash!” at the end of “Skinny Dippin’.” She gives a subtle growl as she spits out the biting line “Lie, lie, lie, like a politician” on the fiery current single “Too Good to Be True,” while bringing a genuine sense of desperation to the wistful “Feels So Real.” The most beautiful moments come with the plaintive, melancholy trill she imbues into the chorus of “Last Supper,” along with the gorgeous, shimmering falsetto she turns in on the a cappella hymn “Christ Alone,” which closes the album.
That said, Blaylock does not by any means hog the spotlight, as band mates Dean Berner and Cherill Green are given ample opportunity to shine. Their instrumental chops are prominently spotlighted on nearly every track, while Green’s high, lilting voice and Berner’s smooth, deep voice supply engaging contrast and interplay as they frame Blaylock’s lead vocals. The sound of the record is surprisingly restrained for a Mark Bright-produced project. While he does dial up the percussion a tad too much on “Who Am I Drinking Tonight,” and adds a loud and unnecessary bass line to “Cherry Pie,” the better part of the set leans on a simple, no-nonsense production style that goes down easily, spiced up by Berner and Green’s nimble dobro, banjo, and mandolin picking.
As enticing as the other ingredients may be, what really makes a good album is good songs, and Edens Edge claims some noteworthy standouts. Hannah Blaylock shares writing credits on three of the album’s ten tracks; Dean Berner’s name appears on two. The band mates complement their self-written cuts with some solid outside material, with one standout moment being their delightfully twangy cover of the Ashley Monroe/ Terry Clayton/ Brett James co-write, “Swingin’ Door,” which was a hit for Catherine Britt in Australia. The lyric builds on an effective metaphor of a swinging door at a “gas-up rest stop” to illustrate a non-committal man who walks in and out of his woman’s life as he pleases. Best of all is “Last Supper,” which builds on Christ’s final passover with his apostles as a metaphor for a relationship nearing its end. The couplet of “You break the break and break my heart/ You raise the glass as we fall apart” is heartrending.
Considerably less satisfying is “Who Am I Drinking Tonight,” which has a lively beat and melody, but that leans on the hackneyed name-dropping gimmick which feels like it should be beneath the group. Likewise, we find that the brash, hard-drinking bad girl persona of Gretchen Wilson (who is briefly referenced in the lyric) is a hat that Hannah Blaylock can’t quite wear convincingly. While “Liar” turns in a solid spin on a storyline that has been used a few times before, the chorus (“I’m a liar, I’m a liar/ The biggest liar in the world/ ‘Cause I’ll be cryin’, I’ll be cryin’/ Like I’ve never cried before”) feels somewhat hollow, while the nostalgia-themed “Cherry Pie” could benefit from a more clearly defined narrative. That said, the vocals, production, and melody are generally able to elevate the record even when the songwriting falls short.
As a whole, the project is given just enough polish to be mainstream-friendly without veering off into the uninspired, radio-pandering blandness that far too many of the group’s radio peers have stooped to. Most importantly, Edens Edge respectfully treats the music as an art form instead of merely a commercial product for mass consumption. By all rights, this is an impressive debut album, and one that heightens interest in the growth that the trio’s future projects may bring.
EDENS EDGE’S SCORE: 7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
Top Tracks: “Swingin’ Door,” “Last Supper,” “Feels So Real”
Buy: Edens Edge