Husband and wife duo Aaron and Grace Bond and their band, a.k.a. When Rivers Meet, are flying high at the moment with their distinctive brand of melodic blues rock. They released a couple of EPs before their first two full-length offerings We Fly Free in November 2021, and Saving Grace a year later, both winning a raft of awards, and they now present their first live album, recorded on their headline tour in April and May 2022. Titled The Flying Free Tour Live, it is released on CD, DVD and vinyl, as well as the obligatory digital format, with the recordings taken from three different performances, glued together into a coherent whole. Despite comprising numbers from disparate venues, the sound reproduction is amazingly consistent, and the tracks are sewn together virtually seamlessly. It’s only when watching the DVD version that the variation becomes apparent, as their clothes magically change from one number to the next!
That is not an issue though, in fact it serves not only to add visual interest to the production, but also to demonstrate that a lot of thought and effort has clearly been taken with the presentation. The DVD, which is just shy of an hour, opens with the camera panning over a darkened auditorium, with crowd noise and intermittent lighting and sound effects. After two minutes, the heavy guitar riff of Did I Break The Law powers up, and the spotlight picks out Aaron as he walks onto the stage from the wings, followed by Grace. Not surprisingly, the CD dispenses with the atmospheric intro and some of the later crowd filler, reducing it to 55 minutes. The video format also has the advantage of underlining the kind of venues on the tour; they are not stadiums, nor yet even theatres; we are looking at dark clubs with the thick atmosphere of a mostly standing audience. Nevertheless, Grace’s voice is on full form from the start; Aaron plays a slide guitar for track two Walking On The Wire, while Grace picks up a slide mandolin and they sing the intro in harmony. The sound is a bit mushy at this point, as indeed it would have been when playing live in a little club, but the balance is great, with Grace’s slide coming in loud when it has to, but sinking back during the verses so it doesn’t overwhelm the voices.
A fair bit of work has also gone into the cinematography, with the picture dropping into monochrome for fourth track Battleground, while the view shifts to behind the band for the six-string bass and tom-tom intro. The colour returns as the number warms up, and by this time the sound is pitch-perfect too, so the sweet acoustic waltz-time country ballad Don’t Tell Me Goodbye comes across perfectly. Aaron’s rounded baritone voice makes a rare appearance on lead vocals for the second verse, drawing cheers from the crowd, while Grace breaks down in a fit of giggles during the last verse. They could have used a different take for that track I guess, but in fact it comes across well and adds to the atmosphere, so it was wise to leave it in.
The next song, Free Man, is the first major highlight for this reviewer; Aaron puts his slide guitar back on and we are treated to some more arty monochrome camera work as he plays the deep, grungy slow blues of the intro. Lost & Found features a 6-string bass solo from Roger Inniss, then Aaron dons a cigar-box slide for Innocence Of Youth.
So far, Grace has played both slide and standard-tuned mandolin, as well as handling lead vocals, but she outdoes herself by whistling – yes whistling! the intro to the folky vocal duet Bury My Body, then picks up a violin to play a country-style solo at the end. This number features the two of them singing harmonies over a single acoustic guitar, and it’s actually stunning, probably the best number of the night, and you could hear a pin drop in that club.
Just when we thought they had pulled all their musical tricks out of the box, drummer James Fox abandons his kit to play some excellent piano for the ballad Tomorrow, another highlight. The set features a fair bit of audience sing-along and hand waving, and one or two more different guitars are pulled out for different numbers, with Grace demonstrating her fiddle technique once again on set-closer Want Our Love.
The blues-rock is great, but it’s mostly mid-tempo, rarely breaks into a sweat, and I have to say that up until now, the highlights have really been the close-harmony ballads. For an encore though, they pull out Testify, the hardest-rocking number of the whole set. Grace’s voice is in full flow, with Aaron doing some aah-aah backings, and some tight stops from the band augment a great closing number. They’re an attractive and engaging couple, and there are a lot worse ways to spend one’s time than looking at them for an hour. But their East Anglian charm is more than matched by their vocal and instrumental skill, and the band holds up excellently behind them. I have to give an approving shout-out to their audio engineering team of Tom James, Adam Bowers and Mike Curtis; I don’t know who edited the video, but it’s perfectly done, so kudos there too. No doubt more awards are on their way.