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Album Review : When Rivers Meet – Aces are High 

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Reviewed by TAF ROCK for MPM

CONFLUENCE – the place where two rivers flow together and become one larger river.

Grace and Aaron Bond are two wonderfully talented human beings. When they come together as one as the band WHEN RIVERS MEET the energy and passion for music and life in general floods out in abundance and overwhelms the listener like a tsunami equivalent to the meeting of the world’s greatest rivers.

The story of When Rivers Meet began in earnest during a time most of us want to forget – the COVID wars of 2020 (though the duo formed way back in 2016 and released their first EP in 2019). Having been forced like the rest of the music world to abandon touring plans due to the pandemic Grace and Aaron returned home and began to livestream weekly as a duo to the music starved public via Facebook. What began as a trickle of interest soon became a flood that carried the band to unforetold success and a plethora of awards in the next couple of years. 

So how do such a successful band follow up the success of their superb 2020 debut We Fly Free and the resultant follow up 2021’s Saving Grace.  

Just as a river can unexpectedly change path and widen its banks gathering momentum as it flows faster onwards towards the ocean so too do the band with the release of ACES ARE HIGH. Grace and Aaron don’t abandon their tried and tested sound entirely on this release but they certainly broaden it and at times take it into darker and heavier genre defying territory which is a joy to behold and is sure to grab the attention of an ever wider audience of fans outside the boundaries of the blues genre with which they are traditionally associated.

We open with INFECTED. From the off there’s a darker grittier almost grungy feel to the opening riff. Fast paced drums and growling bass from third member and musical extrovert Adam Bowers (the album was also produced by Adam at his own Boathouse Studios) before Grace’s trademark vocals kick in and ‘we’re infected … by the plague of men’. The opening verse leads into the beautiful harmony vocals of the chorus with Aaron joining in. A sound the Bonds have perfected so well.

The first real indication this is going to be a somewhat different album to the previous successful releases follows with SEEN IT ALL BEFORE. A somewhat surprising choice for the third single from this release but a choice that really works. Demonstrating to listeners that When Rivers Meet have more than one string to their bow and aren’t afraid to venture into pastures new this track is three minutes and thirty seven seconds of musical genius.

The most radical departure from the tried and tested When Rivers Meet sound as it’s possible to get. A hauntingly beautiful track with a big sound. A darker feel to those glorious vocals as Grace implores you to listen as she ‘can feel your eyes on me’. Based around the stripped back sound of those early live streams by the duo but pumped full of energy to the max complete with thunder claps and heavy pounding drums from Adam Bowers it has a slight touch of Queen’s anthemic We Will Rock You about it at times. It’s certainly not like anything we’ve ever seen or heard before from When Rivers Meet.

The lead single PLAY MY GAME follows. Back to a more ‘traditional’ but still heavier When Rivers Meet sound and a track already proving to be a crowd favourite in the live arena. Grace is ‘the devil on your shoulder … and she won’t let go’ as she leads from the front and takes complete control of the vocals and song. ‘You can’t say no’. A wonderful chorus with Grace tempting us to ‘play my game’ whilst Aaron provides harmonies in the background.

GOLDEN takes us back to the glorious love song duets such as Saving Grace’s excellent ‘Talking In my Sleep’ or ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’. Opening with delightful acoustic guitar we get the first chance to hear the  gorgeous silky smooth calming vocals of Aaron introducing a track. Quite different in style to those of his wife it’s a pleasure to hear Aaron taking the lead vocal at times. Grace joins in after the first few lines and everything is perfect despite this song being a break-up song. No other duo master this kind of sound quite like the Bonds – our musical secret agents. A thing of beauty enhanced by choral backing vocals and keys by multi talented Adam Bowers. Grace leads off the second verse sending chills down our spine. A proper tear jerker that somehow fills you with happiness with its sheer beauty as Aaron recalls memories of ‘blue flamed super nova’ whilst Grace ‘wishes she could go back to that day, though our stars will never shine the same’.  I look forward to the magical experience this will create at future gigs.

ACES ARE HIGH – Opening with a deep dark crawling riff from Aaron contrasted by Grace soaring high pitched vocals. A big sound in complete contrast to the previous track as When Rivers Meet expand those boundaries once again. Grace tells us to ‘Keep rolling your dice’ before launching into the chorus ‘My aces are high, the tables are turning’. A song of contrasts with Grace almost whispered vocal at times before launching into the grandiose chorus.

TRAIL TO AVALON – A true When Rivers Meet epic in the making as befits the mystical island of Arthurian legend where Excalibur was crafted and King Arthur was taken to end his life following the Battle of Camlann. A mystic feeling is fittingly created with the intro to this song leading into another welcome lead vocal from Aaron ‘as the smoke clears’. I can almost imagine Robert Plant singing this intro in years gone by, it has a feel of Led Zeppelin’s mysticism about it at times. Grace takes over for the chorus. Her soaring vocal taking us with her to new heights contrasting beautifully with the deep dark heavy guitar sound of Aaron as she sings ‘It’s a long way down’. From the heights you’ve just taken us to it most certainly is Grace. But Aaron’s vocal returns to bring us back down to earth. A standout feature of this track which is complemented by beautiful slide mandolin from Grace.

PERFECT STRANGER – The autobiographical second single chosen from this album recalls how Aaron and Grace met and their ensuing relationship. Grace is back on lead vocals here for another big sounding song punctuated with neat drum work from Adam as Grace ‘sees the light’. She’s got Aaron ‘in my sight’.

THE SECRET – No holding back here. Straight into an almighty powerful heavy riff. Grace tells us ‘the secret’s out’ as Aaron excels on the guitar having great fun during the songs lengthy lead break. The secrets out now, When Rivers Meet aren’t resting on their laurels. ‘There’s no more dragging us down’. 

BY YOUR SIDE – In total contrast to the previous track It’s time for another stripped back love song by the duo and why not, they do this stuff so well. Together in perfect harmony singing alongside each other it’s another beautiful song created by the unique chemistry the Bonds have both on and off stage. The differing vocal ranges really complement each other. It’s demonstrated perfectly on this track. ‘The tides ebb and flow’ just as this album does. Rocking out one minute, mystic psychedelia moments later, interspersed with beautiful duets like this.

5 MINUTES UNTIL MIDNIGHT – Iron Maiden fans know that 2 minutes to minute are the hands that threaten doom. So our intrepid duo turn the clock back another 3 minutes to allow us to ‘pass our time in a sacred space’ before we come to the end of this superb album and hopefully avoid the impending doom. It’s in a similar style to other tracks such as Perfect Strangers. Heavy dark gritty riffs, solid drum work. Grace providing the lead vocal, Aaron joining in on the heaviest sounding chorus of the whole album. A crescendo of energy bringing the album to an extremely heavy rocky end at a frantic pace as if a dam holding back the rivers waters had finally burst. It’s a fitting end to the most expansive genre defying album When Rivers Meet have recorded thus far. 

CONFLUENCE – the place where two rivers flow together and become one larger river. The definition sums up this album and band perfectly. Grace and Aaron pooling their collective resources to combine into one impressive entity known as WHEN RIVERS MEET. On the evidence of this latest release no dam is strong enough to hold back WHEN RIVERS MEET.

ACES ARE HIGH – TRACK LISTING

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

The new album is available to pre-order HERE

Pictures courtesy of Haluk Gurer

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