The Reivers

TrackAlbum
Things Don't ChangeTranslate Slowly
CowboysTranslate Slowly
Translate SlowlyTranslate Slowly
Atlantic CityCover Me
ElectraSaturday
In Your EyesSaturday
Cut AboveEnd Of The Day
It's About TimeEnd Of The Day
ChinatownPop Beloved
Other SidePop Beloved

The Reivers photo 1

The Reivers (l-r): Cindy Toth (bass, violin), John Croslin (vocals, guitar), Garrett Williams (drums), Kim Longacre (vocals, guitar)

 

 

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The Reivers playlist

 

Contributor: Marc Fagel

Hailing from Austin, Texas, the Reivers were one of the many ‘jangly guitar’ bands that came to dominate the college radio scene in the 80s and early 90s in the wake of R.E.M.’s success. They were also one of the best, distinguished by their distinctive merger of Southern Americana and Byrdsy folk-pop, and particularly by the interwoven vocals of guitarists John Croslin and Kim Longacre. The pair alternated lead vocals, sounding almost like a more pop-oriented X, while Longacre often added spellbinding harmonies to Croslin’s leads. They released four terrific albums before disbanding, briefly resurfacing in 2013 for a reunion album and tour before again disappearing from the scene.

Sadly, the band’s back catalog is out-of-print and nearly impossible to track down, and they were long absent from streaming media as well. But all five albums miraculously appeared on Spotify in 2021, so check them out while you can!

The band got off to a rocky start. Initially formed as Zeitgeist, they released their debut full-length, Translate Slowly, in 1985 (following a brief 1984 EP). Alas, they subsequently discovered another (long-forgotten) band had previously laid claim to the name. So Zeitgeist became The Reivers (later reissuing the debut on CD under the new name). Drama aside, it’s a pretty astonishing debut, and remains their most essential record. Picking a few favorites for a top ten here is a futile enterprise; you could pick three tracks at random and they’d work just fine.

The album is jam-packed with jangly, mid-tempo numbers, ridiculously melodic, with Croslin’s restrained twang and Longacre’s soaring harmonies working sheer magic. The slow-building Things Don’t Change is a personal favorite, the wispy verse cutting loose into a bold, anthemic chorus. But Cowboys is another breathtaking showcase for those dueling vocals, while the hushed title track is gentle swath of evening ambience. Of course, you could also throw in with a few of the rockers, the frenetic album-opening Araby (later covered by Hootie & The Blowfish, of all bands!) showing the band could muster some muscle behind their folk-based pop.

The CD reissue appended the tracks from the 1984 EP, as well as an unlikely but wonderfully fun cover of Daniel Johnston’s Walking The Cow; alas, the bonus tracks are excluded from the recent Spotify edition.

 

The following year, the band (still as Zeitgeist) contributed a cover of Atlantic City to a Bruce Springsteen tribute album called Cover Me. I typically avoid using scarce real estate on a Toppermost for covers (especially when, as here, the album is out of print) – but I’m making an exception because it’s the rare case where the cover far outstrips the original. No disrespect to Bruce, but I’d place this right up there with Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower and the Clash’s I Fought The Law in the pantheon of covers standing as definitive versions (again, no small thanks to Croslin’s harmonies).

The band’s sophomore album (and first as the Reivers), 1987’s Saturday, stuck pretty closely to the blueprint established by the debut. It opens with another rocker, the compelling What Am I Doing, an obvious stand-out that still manages to be overshadowed by a record full of stand-outs. Electra, a stripped-down re-recording of a song from their debut EP, shows how the Croslin/Longacre vocals could adeptly carry a tune with little more than an acoustic guitar and a tambourine. In Your Eyes is a terrific pop song, a bit more upbeat, with an infectious Longacre-driven chorus. But the Croslin-helmed Baby and Secretariat are nearly as great.

 

For 1989’s End Of The Day, the band didn’t make any significant stylistic changes, but the album sports a cleaner, more polished sound, a potential bid for more mainstream airplay (which, sadly, evaded the band throughout their run). The sonic punch makes the more upbeat tracks – It’s About Time and the rollicking Cut Above are particularly great – feel almost like power pop. (It also gives their rhythm section, bassist Cindy Toth and drummer Garrett Williams, a little more presence.) But the band continues to stay largely in their comfort zone of mid-tempo jangle, tunes like Star Telegram and the title track sounding like holdovers from earlier albums with a touch more studio craft. I might rank this one just a notch below its predecessors, if only because it breaks little new ground, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t perfectly enjoyable.

Alas, their next album, 1991’s Pop Beloved, was to be their last (for about a quarter-century). Retaining End Of The Day’s studio sheen, it sounds a lot like its predecessor, though with, on balance, slightly stronger material. Which makes it all the more disappointing that it failed to help the band break free of the college radio ghetto. Other Side features an enchanting call-and-response from the band’s vocalists, again elevated by a winning chorus. And I’ve always been won over by Chinatown, a sweet, disarming ballad that sounds like a great lost folk song. But there are more rockers as well, notably the biting Over And Over, the lyrical sadness perhaps signaling the band’s impending break-up.

Following the Reivers’ dissolution, Croslin assembled a new band, the Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, with other Austin musicians. And they sound … well, an awful lot like the Reivers. Indeed, vocalist Julie Lowery (who handles most of the leads, with Croslin more in the background) isn’t too far afield from Longacre. Musically, the band continues in the same jangle-pop vein, though sticking more to the folk-tinged mid-tempo vibe while eschewing more upbeat rockers. They released two albums – 2005’s Songs for Housework and 2007’s The World From The Back Seat – which are perfectly solid and will appeal to any Reivers fan (or, for that matter, 10,000 Maniacs fan). Alas, Longacre, aside from contributing vocals to a number of projects, does not appear to have had an active presence in the years after the break-up.

The original Reivers finally regrouped in 2013, self-releasing a new album, Second Story (which disappeared almost as suddenly as it appeared) and heading out on tour. For a reunion album, it’s not bad. It doesn’t necessarily add anything essential to the original four-record run (though Setting Son and When She Sings in particular are pretty good), but the Croslin/Longacre vocal pairing still works, and the band avoided some of the 80s production vices that slightly marred their original releases.

 

The Reivers poster 1

 

The Reivers photo 2

 

The Reivers official website

The Reivers (Wikipedia)

2020 Article in Americana UK

2002 PopMatters reissue review

The Reivers biography (AllMusic)

Marc Fagel is a semi-retired securities lawyer living outside San Francisco with his wife and his obscenely oversized music collection. He is the author of the rock lover’s memoir “Jittery White Guy Music”. His daily ruminations on random albums in his collection can be seen on his blog of the same name, or by following him on twitter.

Marc’s previous posts include The Shazam, Guided by Voices, The Connells, Big Audio Dynamite, Sleater-Kinney, Liz Phair, Elephant 6, Apples in Stereo, Sweet, The Bats, Matthew Sweet, Badfinger, New Pornographers, Bettie Serveert, Flaming Lips, Neil Young, My Morning Jacket, Raveonettes, Phish, Luna, Jesus and Mary Chain, Feelies, Genesis, Wilco, King Crimson, Brian Eno

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