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Vinyl Tap: The Reivers – Translate Slowly

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #59:

“Well I knew what cryptic lines would sucker you / And where were you in ‘84?”  To address the song styling and titling of “I Knew,” you may have been in an era lured by the tuneful lyricism of the Reivers, formerly Zeitgeist before being stolen away by the Faulknerian spirit (and fear of litigation by another band called Zeitgeist, “some new age band” — as the liner notes put it — which had previous dibs on the name).

Led by singers/guitarists John Croslin and Kim Longacre, the folk-rock sounds of the Austin-based Reivers merge toward the reflective and melancholy edge of Byrdsian evocation. Call it the jingle-jangle mourning that comes following you. There’s also an early-R.E.M. flavor, and while the Reivers retain those Michael Stipe-like impressionistic “cryptic lines,” the vocals on many songs sound more like sardonic Lou Reed – seemingly so the lyrics have a better chance of being enunciated. Furthermore, to round it all out, the instrumentation is punctuated with the powerhouse drumming of Garrett Williams, with Cindy Toth on bass and violin.

There is indeed a stress on the downbeat and wistful on Translate Slowly, the Reivers' full-length 1985 debut album. Things may be too stark and spare at times, such as on the title song, but more typically, harmonies ring out, such as on the Fred Rose song (made popular by Willie Nelson), “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and on melodic heart-tuggers like “Legendary Man,” where instrumental layers deepen as the lyrical ambivalence surfaces. In the latter case, when a confession emerges — “I can’t resist – a signpost in my view / Could elevate me to a new direction” — vulnerability and a sense of danger ensues.

Or, in another perspective that may or may not be for the better,  “Things Don’t Change” casts all yearning for relationship out:

    I was sitting in my darkest night, a single
    heart — called company — lighting up a cigarette
    nothing makes a small sound, and things are
    falling all around – study hard another cup
    eyes adjusted to the night – a single heart
    called company
    I took the long way home to be alone
    a little longer – shutting my eyes
    I try to find a little loneliness

On the other hand, the more spirited numbers on Translate Slowly are direct and rollicking, losing nothing in quick-turnaround translation, and leaving you seeking anything but a single heart. The folkishly fun “Freight Train Rain” is a hook-enanny hoot that’ll have you hitting the re-cue or repeat. Just as reelingly infectious is the power-pop closer “Walking the Cow” (somehow fittingly preceded and complemented by the weird psych-out instrumental “Wherehaus Jamb”), which bookends the album’s “Radio Free Europe”-rock out opener “Araby.”

To bring Translate Slowly full-frontal Faulkner, the standout “Sound and the Fury” signifies nothing better than the merging of the Reivers’ divergent musical styles — the moodiness and the more vigorous frenzy — exemplified throughout the release. Ruminative and rocking, tempos subtly shift within a dynamic melodic drift, while jingle-jangle rhythms trigger sinuous guitar leads. Oh, and then there’s the cryptic lines…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Chris

    A great read. Having seen this band many times in my youth, thanks for the stoll down memory lane…

  • Josh Hathaway

    You introduced me to a new one, Gordon. Great job as always.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks, Chris, for the comment. Unfortunately, I never saw them live — too bad they were so short-lived.

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Thanks Josh, glad to. You may be interested to know that sometime-R.E.M. producer went on to produce the Reivers second album “Saturday” in 1987.

  • JC Mosquito

    LoL! Gordon – I have the original Zeitgeist vinyl – totally forgot I had it – totally forgot they changed their name too. I’ll have to hook up the turntable and spin it again now. Thanx!

  • Gordon Hauptfleisch

    Turn it up loud, JC! That’s getting into the zeitgeist…

  • Mark Saleski

    great stuff gordon (as usual). gees, how can you not like a band with a song titled “She Digs Ornette”?