Review: When Rivers Meet – ‘Saving Grace’

When the School of Rock returns to face-to-face teaching, pupils can expect a new semester entirely devoted to British husband-and-wife blues duo When Rivers Meet. Way before the pandemic forced musicians to rethink how they connected with and retained their core audience, Grace Bond (lead vocals, mandolin, violin) and Aaron Bond (vocals, guitar) were not-so-quietly building up a community of like-minded fans through innovative use of social media, and not treating their bulging mailing list as an excuse to spam the hell out of people. Whereas in the past, music fans would trade cassettes, nowadays it’s in the form of sharing a YouTube video or sharing a social media post from that new artist that you need to tell everyone about. And that’s the response that When Rivers Meet brings out in so many people – “I need to let people know about this band”, and for that reason – as well as their incredible playing abilities and sublime songcraft skills – Jack Black should be pointing to their name on that famous blackboard.

Sophomore album ‘Saving Grace’ lands on the same day as another second album; the magical ‘Raise the Roof’ from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, and while both albums are quite different from each other, some comparisons can be made. Neither album is in a rush to reach its destination, and despite the difference in budgets, both are organic sounding and built for comfort, not speed, with the end result being two albums that should spark a connection on many levels for some time to come.

‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ kicks proceedings off in a strong, gutsy manner, and with album producer Adam Bowers slapping de bass as well as banging on the drums (to great effect especially on the smoldering Ry Cooder-Esque ‘Eye Of A Hurricane (Friend Of Mine Pt. 2)), this has all the hallmarks of a classic power-trio jamming in a studio blissfully unaware that someone has pressed record. It’s a slow-burning gem that doesn’t need to bludgeon the listener over the head to make its point, and the traditional “floor it” attitude towards an album opener is nowhere to be found, instead, the band lets the song grow at its own pace, and the mid-section where Grace vocalises over a pulsating, rhythmic (almost Native American) drum sound before Aaron comes in with a wailing guitar solo, well that alone is worthy of the price of admission…as is the subtle slide work on its immediate successor; the soaring ‘Never Coming Home’, and the explosion of sound that is ‘He’ll Drive You Crazy’. If someone needs a handful of examples of why When Rivers Meet won “Blues Band of the Year,” “Blues Album of the Year,” “Emerging Blues Artist of the Year,” and “Most Inspirational Online Performance of the Year” at the UK Blues Awards, as well as why they were voted “Best New Band” by the listeners of Planet Rock at the radio station’s “The Rocks” Awards, then the opening tracks of ‘Saving Grace’ certainly do that. So much so, that you can’t help but feel that had Jack White written and recorded ‘He’ll Drive You Crazy’ (or provided the guitar licks on ‘Do You Remember My Name?’), then the hipster publications would be falling over each other to shout from the rooftops about it.

Fans of the sorely-missed Civil Wars should be wiping a tear away upon hearing the beautiful ballad ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’ and later on, the jaw-dropping, stripped-back to the bones ‘Talking In My Sleep’, the co-vocals from Aaron come washing in on waves and combine with Grace’s heart-wrenching vocals to leave the listener on the floor. The production on both these moments is stunning (as it is on the entire album), and the listener is left with the impression that they are listening to one-take performances. Beautiful. Simply beautiful. Much the same could be said of ‘Have No Doubt About It’ (the violin sound from Grace is bloody gorgeous) and this one-two is arguably the strongest part of the album. The feel of the latter is incredible, so much going on that it would make your head spin, and as soon as it fades out the only thing left to do is hit rewind and fall in love with it all over again. Needing some oomph to counteract the state of bliss that the previous tracks have put you in? Crank up ‘Testify’, roll back the living-room carpet and bust a few moves to one of the freshest, and most vibrant songs heard this year. Follow that up by opening the seal on a bottle of Maker’s Mark for ‘Shoot The Breeze’ (which comes with some stunning and diverse guitar work) and the alluring ‘Lost & Found’, before ending the album rocking out to ‘Make A Grown Man Cry’.

‘Saving Grace’ is the sound of a band really finding their feet. At times the music on offer is so diverse that the listener is left wondering what is coming up next. The standard of playing from all involved is staggering, and would it be foolish to say that perhaps this might be the last album that When Rivers Meet will self-release? Nope, not at all. Someone has told Ed van Zijl over at Mascot Label Group about Grace and Aaron? Yeah?

Available now, more information here.

When Rivers Meet plays a warm-up show with their five-piece band at Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds on December 18, 2021. The band will then embark on their first-ever 17-date headline UK tour on April 21, 2022 with special guest Troy Redfern. Tickets: www.thegigcartel.com/Artists-profiles/When-Rivers-Meet.htm

Sheffield Greystones: Thursday, April 21, 2022

Bath Komedia: Friday, April 22, 2022

Southampton 1865: Saturday, April 23, 2022

Colchester Arts Centre: Friday April 29, 2022

Newbury Arlington Arts: Saturday, April 30, 2022

Leeds Brudenell Social Club: Thursday, May 5, 2022

Newcastle Cluny: Friday, May 6, 2022

Glasgow Òran Mór: Saturday, May 7, 2022

London Garage: Thursday, May 12, 2022

Birmingham The Asylum: Friday, May 13, 2022

Norwich Waterfront Arts: Saturday, May 14, 2022

Manchester Deaf Institute: Thursday, May 19, 2022

Bristol Exchange: Friday, May 20, 2022

Leek Foxlow Arts: Saturday, May 21, 2022

Shoreham Ropetackle: Thursday, May 26, 2022

Nottingham The Bodega: Friday, May 27, 2022

Edinburgh Blues Club, The Voodoo Rooms: Saturday, May 28, 2022

Studio photo credits – Rob Blackham

Live image – Callum Scott

 

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