British husband-and-wife duo When Rivers Meet and their band come back with their third album Aces Are High, which continues in their dynamic bluesy heavy rock tradition. Grace and Aaron Bond’s musical style hasn’t changed much since their first album in 2019; it emphasises the heavy rock end of the spectrum a little more I would say, but at the same time incorporating more varied styles and arrangements – there was perhaps a tendency in the early material to over-use the stop-start style of hard rock, and although that still appears, it no longer rules the roost. The songs carry themselves now, with very little in the way of soloing, although Grace’s electric slide mandolin is still in evidence. Grace seems to have jettisoned her violin for this set though, which is a shame, as it always adds a welcome extra texture.
However that may be, this set powers in on the massively crunchy, heavy guitar riff of Infected, complete with John Bonham-heavy thumping drumming. Grace takes the lead vocals, with Aaron contributing harmonies as required, a pattern that is followed on most of the numbers. Seen It All Before is a slower, more ponderous track, featuring a heavily electronic, overdriven bass sound and slow clapping percussion. The electronic effects recur at intervals throughout the set, but the grungy bass work lays down a great, spiky basis to rest the tracks on, especially the next number Play My Game, which features great bass work and also interpolates short breaks of electronic drums in amongst the more conventional rhythm.
Just to be contrary though, for me it’s the lighter, folky numbers that take the real accolades here – Golden is a ballad which opens with a bit of basic acoustic muted strumming, with Aaron singing the lead and Grace coming in on harmonies after a few lines. But then she takes over the lead vocal and Aaron swaps seamlessly over to harmonies, which is a great bit of theatre. Even thought it builds with added piano chords and massed backing vocals, it remains a folky piece of soft rock all the way through, and is definitely a highlight of the album.
The second highlight comes a couple of numbers later with Trail To Avalon, another slow folk rocker with acoustic drums, and duet vocals with grungy chords in the chorus. It alternates between lighter sections sung by Aaron, and heavier passages sung by Grace, and incorporates some neat military snare work at one point.
The video at the foot of this page is Perfect Stranger, the album’s second single, with stabs of rhythm guitar and an imaginative tom pattern, before coming in on soaring rock for the choruses. They experiment with a number of rhythm changes for this one, a feature explored further in The Secret, although that drifts almost into punk rock territory, with chunky guitar all the way through. There is a screaming, minimal slide solo that climbs into the stratosphere towards the end as main rhythm comes back in, another neat trick. They return to the folk ballad format with By Your Side, with both vocalists coming straight in without any preamble – it’s a slow, romantic melody in 3-4 time with minimal drums and bass, and clear-toned guitar chords. Interestingly, they don’t sing harmony as such, they both just sing the same tune, and it’s tight to perfection, beautifully presented – another highlight for me.
The album closes with Five Minutes Until Midnight, with thudding drums reminiscent of the glam rock era, and fuzzy guitar with multiple stops, drawing the album to a halt at the 40-minute mark. If you have been following the progress of When Rivers Meet, there won’t be any major surprises here, but for my money it’s some of their best material to date.
Aces Are High by When Rivers Meet will be released in October 2023 via One Road Records