When it comes to setting out your stall, When Rivers Meet – the musical moniker of British husband and wife duo Aaron and Grace Bond – do a fair old job on ‘Did I Break The Law’. The opening salvo on their debut album We Fly Free, it weighs in with a grinding rhythm guitar riff over a stomping drumbeat, and before long works itself up into a fair old lather. You’d have to reckon, listening to this, that life chez Bond can be a pretty LOUD affair at times.
This raw and primitive aesthetic isn’t exactly unique – compare Lincoln Durham, fr’instance. But
When Rivers Meet do have a unique selling point, namely the way in which Grace Bond’s voice stalks the album’s landscape like that of a windswept and mysterious sorceress, right from her “Oh yeaah, oh yay-yay-hey-yeaah” hollering on that opening track.
|When Rivers Meet - they make a cute couple, dontcha think?|
Pic by Terry Crouch
Now, I don’t mean that she gets her wail on from start to finish, though our Grace certainly has the pipes to compete with the surging guitar and pounding drums on the likes of their single ‘Battleground’, to name just one example. Nor do I mean that her voice dominates proceedings, bearing in mind the underpinning harmonies often provided by the deeper voice of her other half, who also provides the lead vocal on a couple of tracks. No, what I mean is that her voice has the quality and personality to make When Rivers Meet standout from the herd like neon. Her pure, clear vocal contributes to the light and shade on ‘Bound For Nowhere’, for example, alongside Aaron Bond’s doomy, midnight-graveyard guitar line, before they explode into stridency with the aid of producer Adam Bowers’ clattering drums. And she shows real delicacy on the quieter, enigmatic ‘I’d Have Fallen’, over gently sawing violin and off-kilter percussion. It’s the sort of track that I reckon might have latterday Robert Plant nodding his approval for its distinctive, not-just-same-old-blues-rock approach, right down to La Bond’s slide resonator mandolin (yes, you read that right) outro.
Not that this is a one-woman show. When Aaron Bond takes the vocal reins on ‘Breaker Of Chains’, over a restrained bluesy guitar refrain and with background harmonies from his missus, they again manage to deliver something different, with the feel of an English folk song or maybe even a hymnal as they sing about reaching out for the last time “through the door of evermore”, and add a brief bridge of drums paradiddling away under sweeps of sombre fiddle.
Some songs are more straight up, like ‘Walking On The Wire’, which opens with a dirty blues slide riff, and sounds like the sort of tune Elles Bailey might cook up – except delivered with the aid of a sledgehammer, amid serpentine injections of fiddle and washes of Hammond organ. It also demonstrates their penchant for an oft-repeated vocal line – in this case “Are you the fortunate son?” – that could seem lazy but in fact takes on a mantra-like quality. ‘Kissing The Sky’ is a tale of love sickness like a stripped back funky rocker, with trampolining bass and a slide mandolin solo that sounds like a ghost emerging from a crypt. And ‘Take Me To The River’, matches another vocal from Mr Bond to a swaggering blues rock riff and a squeakingly high-pitched slide mandolin break.
But the longest track here, ‘Bury My Body’, offers simplicity of a different kind. Melodically sweeter, it combines the couple’s voices beautifully, over little more than gentle acoustic guitar and some strokes of piano and organ. The end result is elegance that sounds effortless.
There are twelve songs on We Fly Free, and they’re all good, some of them startlingly so. What’s more, When Rivers Meet deliver them with a real clarity of vision, in a distinctive style that’s full of grace and danger. I predict great things.
We Fly Free is released by One Road Records on 20 November, and can be pre-ordered here.
And you can read the review of The EP Collection, comprising material released before the album, here.