Sunday, November 14, 2021

When Rivers Meet - Saving Grace

Bang, bang, bang, on the door baby – bang, bang, on the door!  That hammering is the sound of When Rivers Meet, back with their second album Saving Grace, and demanding your attention.  The husband-and-wife duo of Grace and Aaron Bond, aided and abetted by their multi-instrumentalist producer Adam Bowers, like to make a rocking racket, and that alone will be enough to keep many headbanging fans happy.  But they’re not just one-trick ponies, as we’ll see.
There’s no ignoring the clatter-and-wallop dimension to the album though, so let’s start there, eh?  In this respect WRM’s go-to sound is frequently a primitive, skeletal, neo-Zeppelin vibe.  Take the song ‘Lost And Found’, for example.  A mucho Zep-like stop-time riff and drum rhythm
When Rivers Meet - strike a pose, there's nothing to it!
Pic by Rob Blackham
lay the foundations for Grace Bond’s edgy vocal, which then erupts into siren mode on the urgent, “Run for your life!” chorus, while Bowers adds rubbery bass, and then some paradiddling drumming towards the end.  Or there’s ‘Do You Remember My Name’ which combines an insistent, tense rhythm with a grinding guitar riff to bore into your brain, given a Page-like lift by a couple of snazzy slide mandolin motifs and some oddball sound effects, en route to a whipped-up finish.  Or there’s the stomp-along Bonzo-like shuffle of ‘Shoot The Breeze’, this time combined with a dipping slide riff, while Grace Bond adds a scraping break on what I take to be violin, before they change up the riff for the ending.  And there’s more – namely the furious closer ‘Make A Grown Man Cry’, its subterranean sledgehammer riff and landslide drums underpinning reverb-drenched hollering from the lady of the house.
Other heavy units show that they can lean away from the stripped-Led template though, and sometimes with extra credit. There are soul leanings discernible in Grace Bond’s terrific delivery of the chorus on ‘Never Coming Home’, for example – well, soul leanings from the Motor Town of Dagenham rather than Detroit, perhaps.  And joking apart, with Bowers adding some swirly organ backing and Jack Bruce-like bass, the song has a satisfying late 60s twist to it.  Meantime ‘Testify’ takes a snatch of ‘Watchtower’ riffing, then mixes in hurdy-gurdy keys and grooving bass from Bowers, while Mademoiselle Grace goes full throttle vocally, and also uses her violin to do a bit of harmonising with her other half’s Yardbirds-style moaned backing vocals.  There’s a whole lot going on in three-and-a-half minutes.
Hard rockin’ ain’t the whole deal though, and they explore different avenues elsewhere.  As straight up as the verses of ‘Have No Doubt About It’ may be, it still takes on a darkly Gothic quality, with Grace Bond’s eerie scrapes of violin, and potent, crystalline vocals - one could imagine it set to a nightmarish, black and white video.  Better still is the absorbing ‘Eye Of A Hurricane (Friend Of Mine Pt 2)’, which comes over like an old folk-blues tune à la Leadbelly, resurrected in ghostly fashion.  It’s Aaron Bond who renders the brooding lead vocal, but it’s the haunting, wordless vocal counterpoint provided by his missus that’s really striking.
But a pair of quieter tracks also shine.  ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’ is simple and soulful, with a resonant melody.  It could go down an ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ road but ends up style-straddling with an Americana feel to great effect.  And ‘Talking In My Sleep’ is a delicate, affecting affair, combining melancholy harmonies with sparse acoustic strumming in exquisite fashion.
That diversity of material is good, because the Bonds do face one challenge with their heavier stuff – they don’t leaven their arrangements with much in the way of traditional “soloing”.  It’s evidently not Aaron Bond’s thing on guitar, and they seem wary of Grace Bond highlighting too much of her violin and slide mandolin.  And that’s fine.  But that being the case, they need to work harder on interesting bridges, codas and so on – even the false ending with mock spoken interruption on ‘He’ll Drive You Crazy’ – to maintain listeners’ interest.
For now though, When Rivers Meet are on a roll.  Their Saving Grace, as it were, is that their sound is so distinctive.  It can surely make many a casual listener sit bolt upright and think “What the proverbial . . . is that?”  Bang, bang, bang, on the door baby!

Saving Grace is released on 19 November on One Road Records, and can be ordered here.
Read the Blues Enthused review of debut album We Fly Free by When Rivers Meet here.
And you can read the review of The EP Collection here.

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