If you know the music of Edens Edge, then you probably know their 2011 single “Amen,” a fun, uplifting song that blends country and gospel traditions with a contemporary pop perspective. A strong showcase especially for the impressive pipes of lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock, the song gained the three Arkansas bandmembers a good deal of attention. It peaked in the Top 20 and helped land the band high-profile opening slots on tours with such artists as Lady Antebellum, Reba, and Brad Paisley.
“Amen” is also now the lead track on Edens Edge’s self-titled debut album, which was just released today (June 12) on Big Machine Records.
“We wrote well over 200 songs for this record, since we moved to Nashville,” Hannah explains during an interview with CBS Local. “We are very thankful that we did that now, as we feel we picked the best of the best and still have a lot more for the future.
The three bandmembers (Blaylock, guitarist and Dobro player Dean Berner, and multi-instrumentalist Cherrill Green) all come from small towns in Arkansas. And they all grew up in families where a love of music was not only supported but actively encouraged.
“I grew up in a family bluegrass band,” explains Cherrill, “and through that I was able to learn lots of different instruments. At festivals, you just grab whatever’s around and jam with people, and you learn from the best of the best.”
“And Hannah grew in a singer-songwriter world with her family,” says Cherrill. “But at the same time, I know I’ve seen Judds cassettes back in her house, too.”
Dean, she says, “grew up doing the rock band thing with his buddies,” but at the same time, “some of [his] fondest memories are listening to Crystal Gayle and Johnny Cash with his dad on the way to soccer practice.”
Each bandmember, in fact, has a fascinating musical back story (which, if you’re curious, is told in far greater detail on the Edens Edge website). And while they “each came from different musical backgrounds,” Cherrill explains there was always a “vein of country that ran through the center” of what they did. And that is where they truly clicked as a band.
“Country is the thing that really gelled us together,” says Hannah. “People ask if there was a moment when we knew this was something special, but honestly, it was so natural and so organic. It was something you could not plan.”
Among the most striking elements of the band’s sound are the tight harmonies. It’s a quality usually reserved for sibling acts–family bands or brother acts like the Louvin Brothers.
“When we first got together,” says Dean, “Hannah and Cherrill just naturally sang together pretty perfectly. Cherrill had been in the family band, and she said that, the first time she and Hannah sang together, it felt like she was singing with her sister.”
“And of course we’ve spent a lot of time working at it together, but the sound you hear coming out of us is pretty close to the sound we had when we first started singing together.”
Perhaps the song on Edens Edge that showcases their vocal harmonies best is the closing track, a cappella “Christ Alone.” Beautiful to the point of chilling, it’s reminiscent of ’40s-era Bill Monroe gospel quartet singing, and makes a powerful cap to their debut album.
“We all grew up in church, and we all grew up singing hymns two-plus times a week,” says Hannah, so gospel is clearly one of the key elements at “the root” of their sound.
Hannah also points out that on “Christ Alone,” Dean actually sings two of the four harmony parts–tenor and bass. “He has such a wide range for a male vocalist,” says Hannah, “and he really does create a foundation that Cherrill and I can dance upon.”
Edens Edge originally formed back in Arkansas. Hannah and her parents sang with a guy named Steve Smith (who wrote “Christ Alone”). “He’s the one who introduced and brought Dean and Cherrill into the band,” says Hannah. “Steve and Dean’s parents, they all raised their kids together, playing soccer. And Steve taught Dean his first chords on the guitar.”
When the chance came to move to Nashville and focus on their career, says Hannah, Steve Smith and her parents stayed behind and “us three young ‘uns, who didn’t have mortgages and grandkids, moved.” But, she’s quick to say, “my parents and Steve, they supported us the whole way.”
“We moved together, and we honed the trio thing for a long time. We did it kinda under the radar, we didn’t really play out very much. And we all lived in a house together and practiced religiously.”
The break for them came when their friend and early supporter, Arkansas songwriter Kye Fleming (“Smoky Mountain Rain,” “Sleeping Single in a Double Bed,” “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool”), was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009. “Barbara Mandrell inducted her, Ronnie Mislap sang ‘Smoky Mountain Rain,’ and we sang a five-song medley of her hits. And in the audience that night was the president of Big Machine Records, Scott Borchetta.”
Two years later, they now have a debut album on store shelves.
Most of the songs on the album, says Dean, “we either wrote or found after we came to Nashville.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time making this record,” Dean continues, “and we’ve really tried to play out the songs that are on there, to make sure they’re going to work. Because the ones that stick around and are still fun to play two or three years later, those are songs that you know are going to last. So that’s what we’ve tried to put on our record. We’re really proud of what we got on there.”
Edens Edge is available in retails stores today, as we well as on iTunes and Amazon. However, if you purchase the album through Cracker Barrel, you also can download three additional exclusive acoustic tracks written and produced by the band.
Edens Edge is also heading out on tour this summer with Rascal Flatts. Detroit country music fans got to see an extended version of that set from Edens Edge this past weekend at the WYCD Downtown Hoedown.
– Kurt Wolff, CBS Local