As a guitar player myself, there's something pure and honest about the sound of an acoustic guitar. There's no hiding behind walls of distortion, there's no using heaviness as a crutch. When you play an acoustic, there's only you and the song. It exposes whether or not you have what it takes as a songwriter. That might be why we don't hear them as often as we used to in rock music, as there has been a drain of talent when it comes to the most important part of being a musician. Edge Of Free is a throwback, then, in that they are recalling a time when it was really all about the songs.
That's not saying Edge Of Free doesn't rock. This is not acoustic rock in the Top 40 mold, where a whiny voice with one guitar sings songs about being alone. Edge Of Free adds in the darker textures and electric guitars that bring to mind Alice In Chains in their lighter moments, but you can tell the basis of every song was a guitar and a vocal, which is the way it's supposed to be. They say you should be able to strip a song down to the bare bones and not lose anything of the power. That's true here.
There's a definite undertone of grunge and post-grunge on this record. The dark tone of the guitars is befitting of Seattle, but it's more the melodic constructions that bring that to mind. Every period of time has characteristics that are unique to it, and I hear some of those in Scott Sneddon's singing. His delivery isn't that far removed from what I imagine Scott Weiland would have done with this material.
But like a lot of music from that time, I feel like Edge Of Free is trying to get by on charisma. The melodies are there, but they don't have the sharp bite they need to. There isn't a hook on this album that is going to stand out and hit you the way that "Interstate Love Song" did all those years ago. That's the hardest thing to do as a songwriter, so it's not unexpected when an album doesn't quite deliver on that front. People dismiss pop songwriters because of how fake or 'easy' the music appears, but consistently writing memorable melodies is a deceptively rare skill.
So what do we make of Edge Of Free? I like their darker acoustic sound, and their use of layering to make open sounding music is very nice. The sonic palate is something we don't hear too often, and actually is quite close to Zakk Wylde's "Book Of Shadows II", which won my Album Of The Year award in 2016. Unfortunately, that comparison doesn't bode as well for Edge Of Free, because while Zakk's album was chock full of songs with instantly memorable and singable hooks, Edge Of Free's music is missing the sparkle that would make it shine.
This is a nice little record, and as a debut I can hear a sound that can develop into something very good. But for right now, the sound and style might be there, but the band needs to work a bit to hone their melodic chops. If they can add some more hooks to their music, their next album could be very promising.