Oooh! It’s that difficult second album time for When Rivers Meet – or WRM – after a whirlwind year in which the duo released their critically acclaimed debut album We Fly Free (November 2020); developed an ever-growing online fan base through clever and pro-active use of live-streaming; became the first-ever artist or band to win four awards at the UK Blues Awards including “Blues Band of the Year,” “Blues Album of the Year,” “Emerging Blues Artist of the Year,” and “Most Inspirational Online Performance of the Year.”; then got voted “Best New Band” by the listeners of Planet Rock at the radio station’s “The Rocks” Awards; toured the UK in October 2021 as King King’s special guests and received rave reviews and incredible fan support; and launch their first-ever headline tour in April and May 2022 with special guest Troy Redfern…..so no pressure then!!
Happily, I can report that the duo, comprised of Grace Bond (lead vocals, mandolin, violin) and Aaron Bond (guitar, vocals), have pulled it off with aplomb! Saving Grace is everything their fans will be hoping for. WRM have produced a blues rock album with a denser, richer, punchy, and varied sound, whilst retaining their unique harmonic vocal-led approach to song writing, dirty electric guitar, slide resonator mandolin and fiddle.
Their approach features old-school instrumentation to create a contemporary blues rock sound that has huge echoes of 1970’s classic rock together with hints of the 1930’s blues that inspire them. Grace takes lead vocal on most of the album and plays mandolin and violin, while Aaron handles guitars and adds rich harmony vocals, and sings lead on Eye of a Hurricane. The pair have remained true to a retro style of production, a gritty sound using authentic techniques including echo and reverb chambers to create a warm live sound that keeps a truly vintage vibe. And of course, that delicious Hammond organ!
The duo are very happy with what they’ve created – Grace stresses how important that live, authentic vibe was in the debut album, and how they wanted to retain that energetic feel in the music. As she puts it, “Although we wanted to do something different from our previous work, we still wanted all the same elements that make our music distinctive and recognisable as When Rivers Meet”. Aaron adds “We wanted the album to have more of an upbeat rock feel. We knew exactly what we wanted before we set off to record Saving Grace. We set our expectations high. We’re so pleased with the result and just hope everyone else loves it as much as we do!”
The duo again enthuse about their producer, engineer, collaborator and friend Adam Bowers.”He just gets everything we do and want,” says Grace. “As Adam says, ‘Bring me a drawing, and I will colour it in’, which is a great analogy of how we work together!” Adam also got to play bass, drums, and keyboard and pretty much anything else that Grace and Aaron need added including trumpet on specific songs.
After the success of their debut album, We Fly Free, how does the new album differ? “Saving Grace has a more upbeat rock feeling than We Fly Free,” says Aaron. “We were very conscious when we started to record this album that’s the direction that we wanted to move in, and it was exactly the kind of result that wanted to achieve.” He continues “As well as being inspired by classic blues including John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters, we also draw a lot of influence from classic rock bands that include Led Zeppelin, Bad Company, Cream, and Free. To emulate some of the feel or tone of these legendary blues pioneers and seminal rock bands is something that we strive to do, and hopefully people will hear that in our music and relate to it.”
The album has twelve slabs of honest-to-goodness blues-rock, kicking off with I Can’t Fight This Feeling. Straight away, there’s a nicely fatter classic rock sound, still dominated by Grace’s swooping vocals and Aaron’s crunching riff, straight out of the Free / Bad Company chord-book! But to me it also illustrates a step-change in lead licks from Aaron. Definitely puts a boogie-marker down for the rest of the album!
Never Coming Home follows, a classic late 60’s / early 70’s classic southern rock vibe. A vintage Vox machine was used to achieve this guitar tone, and although this has a modern mix, it’s also got some rootsy slide mandolin in there. He’ll Drive You Crazy has that same heady blend of fuzzy heavy riffs straight from the Seventies nicely twinned with a simultaneously trad and contemporary blues style. The mix is totally ‘live’, complete with brief pause for Aaron to query his sound when playing a cigar-box guitar! Another huge fat slab of sound confirms the progress made since the debut album, and there’s a tasty violin solo as well!
Dont Tell Me Goodbye sees the duo singing a gentle country-ish ballad, swapping choruses within a confident, laid back arrangement. In some ways this reminds me of early Richard and Linda Thompson – no finer comparison! And see if you can spot the Wurlitzer?!
My one small reservation about the debut album We Fly Free was a slight samey-ness of the arrangements across the album, a teensy-weensy lack of light and shade?…but this album has smashed that, exemplified by Do You Remember My Name? It starts off in classic WRM style, plus added slide mandolin within a strong melody, but there’s a new punchiness in the dynamics that asserts itself in a whopper of a bridge / final section. Have No Doubt About It continues this more expansive song-writing style, a wonderful mix of ballad, heavy riffs, violin as lead instrument, duetting of a high calibre. The violin in particular works so well, it catches the emotion of the song.
Eye Of A Hurricane (Friend Of Mine Pt. 2) features Aaron on lead vocal, and he does a great job! This is the second part to Friend Of Mine off We Fly Free, and perhaps highlights how Grace’s violin playing is more assured, a superb instrumental and choral lines to die for! More than anything else, Friend Of Mine Parts 1 and 2 illustrate the difference in arrangement, sound mix and production between the two albums. Powerful stuff, I particularly love the echoey mix on this one – hats off to Adam!
Testify is just full-on 60’s British rhythm and blues, even down to the vintage Vox valves. Whilst the song itself could have been on the first album, the production is fuller, fatter, a real rock’n’roll band sound!
Shoot The Breeze is similarly old-school, a good honest down-and-dirty 12-bar blues with an earworm of a riff! And I tell you what, this is Adam doing his impressive impression of John Bonham on drums! – which is somehow weirdly appropriate, because the next one, Lost & Found has a riff that is so Zeppelin-esque! When you think about it, Zep pretty much invented that earth-shaking blend of trad blues and heavy rock so I shouldn’t be surprised – all the more reason to love this and their influences!
Talking In My Sleep is so different, so sweet and simple, almost pure folk / country. Two voices and a single acoustic guitar are all that are needed to produce beautiful harmonies – again reminded me of Richard and Linda Thompson in the very nicest way….
The album closes, entirely suitably with another full-on rock track, a juicily fat slab of sound that again has some seriously meaty drums – seems to me the producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist that is Adam has had some serious fun with his two friends here! – and that is the real message of this album, just rediscovering the simple joys of belting out seriously good quality music, played loud and live!
With this album, When Rivers Meet have crossed the line between extremely promising and truly great! The song-set as a whole on here is full of blues of the finest kind, beefy rock’n’roll, all delivered with a vintage set of instruments and back-up kit that gives a full-on “live” sound. Congratulations to the whole team on this!
Talking about playing live, WRM are all set to unleash their first-ever nationwide UK headline tour from April 21 until May 28, 2022. Tellingly, the band will be performing as a five-some to fully deliver the sumptuous, fat sound contained on this album. Tickets for WRM’s April and May 2022 UK tour are available from The Gig Cartel and See Tickets. As a curtain-raiser for the tour, When Rivers Meet have announced a special warm-up concert at Hunter Club in Bury St Edmunds on Saturday December 18, 2021.
Tickets are available from www.wegottickets.com/event/521793#tickets