When Rivers Meet – Aces Are High


Staking up that many UK Blues Awards they’re going to need a HGV licence to take them home, husband and wife duo Aaron and Grace Bond, otherwise known as When Rivers Meet declared this, third full length studio album, would be of an altogether heavier disposition.

Now with tracks bearing titles like ‘Aces Are High’ and ‘5 Minutes Until Midnight’ shift but a word or two and you might think they were going to be Iron Maiden covers. Well, they’re not ready to go the full metal route just yet, but there’s a decidedly harder edge present here, without disposing of their blues and folk roots.

From the moment they added a rhythm section for live performance there was little doubt that the sheer force and energy they felt from a backline was affecting their own playing and that was going to have knock-on effect to what they put down and recorded in the studio.

Thus, waiting to happen, this side-shifting musical detour is most apparent in Aaron Bond’s weighted chord and slide playing. Think Jimmy Page via that piled-on overdriven guitar sound that came to prominence during Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti period then later appropriated by Seattle’s grunge crowd. Bond’s work is cleaner, less flamboyant, but driven with a downbeat attack; the rhythm section counterpointing or accentuating these overall melodies tribally.

To be frank, I’m not sure if all completely works. It’s more primal, guttural even, true. The lasting memory is often of grinding sexual dance patterns rather than the subject matter of what they might be singing; but, hey, who needs deep and meaningful deliberations all hours of the day.

Latest single, ‘Infected’ lays the ground work. Over Bonzo-stacked drums Bond’s distorted staccato guitar wades out, slowly at first, then shifting and shuffling with more compelling melodies, over which Grace Bond’s voice glides in verse, before a choral duet that veers into psychedelia while warning the listener to be wary of becoming overly influenced by current populist pre-conditioning about what’s acceptable, or at least that’s my take. ‘Seen It All Before’ by its very title carries on that theme, applying a dark Gothic hymn stance musically, all long unhallowed chants and long moaning guitars. Now if you want to fit in, not stand out or get cancelled on social media, ‘Play My Game’ might initially be considered the advice the band are giving, but with it’s slippery bump and grind, amid strong-willed call and response vocals from Grace Bond adding sexual tension with her temptress proposals even as a more heavenly gospel harmony presides in the background.

Golden’ takes us a reflective step back, with acoustic folk guitar and Aarron taking the initial lead vocal, but sharing it along the way, with lines like “Oh, I wish I could go back to that day” expressing how life is on of shifting change. As piano enters alongside a veritable choir of background vocals, this more interestingly to me would be an area they could explore further, and it cuts short just when you expect more grandeur due, not least a guitar solo. Still, we get a wailing six-string opening to ‘Aces Are High’, a slow distorted heavy blues number that’s equal parts sensual and sleazy.

The gent in the duo delivers the opening lyrical directions for ‘Trail To Avalon’, his partner-in-crime joining into tell of the pitfalls along the way, while also playing impressive slide mandolin in another heavy beating blues number.

Rubbing you up in all the right ways, ‘Perfect Stranger’ is a welcome change of tempo, and is in fact the story of how this married couple’s intense relationship developed. Initially, rather hard rock goes Goth in an All About Eve manner, ‘The Secret’ shift to the chosen Zeppelin template midway – Over a large PA, and too many drinks down your neck, this could prove quite possibly melt your brain, if only for a wee while. And for those sleepy souls, cuddling beside each other as Autumn draws near and you’re not yet ready to argue about the cost of turning the heat on, there’s the gentle Americana duet of ‘By Your Side’.

Foot-tapping with a dirty dancing guitar ‘5 Minutes Until Midnight’ is an infectious noise-fest over a dancing band march beat. Kind of Marilyn Mason meets The Pretty Reckless if co-produced by Trent Reznor and Jimmy Page, it somehow retains the blues at its core and is an interesting way to end this album. It leaves us thinking, a little confused perhaps, despite which there’s a smile on our faces.

A more powerful sound than previously in the recording studio for sure, with some moments of sparkling ingenuity present and accounted for along the way. Possibly too few solos to flesh out the heavy rocking. From live performance they’ve learnt to add some backbone to their overall sound, next time round perhaps studio experience will enhance their arrangements further; as it stands the group choral vocals on a number of the songs are what leave the most lasting impression thus far.

Reviewed by Paul H Birch.

Track List:

  1. Infected
  2. Seen It All Before
  3. Play My Game
  4. Golden
  5. Aces Are High
  6. Trail To Avalon
  7. Perfect Stranger
  8. The Secret
  9. By Your Side
  10. 5 Minutes Until Midnight