When you review Arielle, it almost writes itself. There she is, onstage, looking every inch like she’s just strolled straight here from Laurel Canyon in about 1969, and with a first song that has the lyrics, “I’ll pick you up in a time machine and take you back to ‘73”. And in a way you wouldn’t be far wrong, but that’s not the whole story. That song is the title cut of her new record, and a couple of things are clear from the off here. Firstly, live is where she’s best – there is such an energy on the stage here – but the second is that Arielle is an artist for whom music really matters. Her set is (as you’d imagine) heavy on new stuff. It’s varied too, “Weakness For You” is a country one (she’s from Nashville, its in the blood, right?) plus there’s a cover of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” which is lovingly done. Speaking of “love” there’s only one for Arielle, she reckons, and it’s her guitars. One is the “love of my life” she reckons, before playing “The Way You Look At Me” and if you want to understand this artist, then look no further than the last one, “Magic Again”, which she wrote after a trip to Ireland, absorbing the local music, assimilating the culture and making it her own. The type of artist, you’d imagine, that doesn’t keep a diary. She puts so much into her songs she won’t need to.
Sometimes you have to start at the end. So, at the end of this gig, When Rivers Meet are presented with the Best Band Award from the British Blues Association. Its the third time they’ve won it in three years.
For 90 minutes before it, they’d proved exactly why. Put simply, When Rivers Meet are quite brilliant.
Grace Bond had explained that they’ve been in the studio for three months making album number three, and they’d played a sprinkling, including the opener “Play My Game”. In a way, it’s classic (if I may use that term?) WRM, Grace’s haunting vocal, husband Aaron’s ability to write a bombastic riff, but in another it’s different. They seem totally confident now. Totally sure of what they want to do. That is writ large all through this.
Their two albums thus far are mined for many, “Did I Break The Law” sounds even more strident than usual, and when they duet on “Take Me To The River” its especially impressive.
A band that doesn’t stick to a template, the beautiful “Bury My Body” is back in the set, and they find something almost primal in “My Babe Says He Loves Me (“most of our songs are about us, this is about us” smiles Grace) and I am going to say with equal certainty that “Like What You See?” is likewise.
The fact is that When Rivers Meet – although they’ve won the Blues Award, don’t sound like other “blues rock” bands. Much of that is down to Grace. Her voice, yes, but also her use of violin as on “Breaker Of Chains”. It gives things a folk element, a dynamic, perhaps, that others don’t have.
Adam Bowers, their producer, plays bass and adds a brass to “Shoot The Breeze” while James Fox has been drumming with them for a while. There’s a chemistry, for sure, when they play “Free Man” – a word too for Adam Bond’s playing on this. The slide guitar is sensational.
A skilled live band, of course, this is paced incredibly well, “Walking On A Wire”, “Now I’ve Seen The Light” which sees Arielle join them, to exemplify the camaraderie that exists on the tour, and a brilliant “Lost And Found” could end any set, as they do here, but they’ve built a formidable canon these days and “Testify” in the encore sees Grace disappear into the crowd to see her people up close.
There’s one more, and “Want Your Love” which closes most of their shows, does so again, in joyous fashion before the prize giving begins.
As luck would have it, its exactly a year since I last saw When Rivers Meet in this room. That night I wrote: “If ever there’s a band who looks like they are having the time of their lives onstage its this one. If ever there was a band that seemingly is intent on making the most of every opportunity then When Rivers Meet are that. Their joy is so infectious you cannot resist them even if you wanted to” and honestly, that rather sums it up again.
Watching When Rivers Meet is to watch a band who belongs on stage because they believe they do. “Thanks Birmingham, this is a fun night”, Grace had said. You imagine that everywhere When Rivers Meet go is sprinkled with the same magic.
Let’s be honest, that award they got? There’s more coming.