Review – Translate Slowly 2

Review – “Translate Slowly”. R.J. Smith. High Fidelity, Dec. 1985, p.79.

Revising folk rock’s a task for the brave or the stupid. The music was full of remorse over what had passed- a love or a redwood or an age- and that was a generation ago. Updates are usually frought with a sense of expiration, and people who take them on tend to sound like simpy nostalgics. Yet Translate Slowly is a surprisingly good record. Zeitgeist has expertly balanced its sense of longing with two fervid guitars; these 12 sweet tunes move on a swift wheel.

They’re thoughtful, but they also have an itchy jump. “Things Don’t Change” kicks like Ed Whitson, and “Sound and the Fury” is full of just that- yet as it barrels along, singer John Croslin stands tall. The band puts a lot into guitar lines, but even when it’s at full throttle, the blare is like a summer storm over a plain. You hear the roar, but you get a glimpse of places where it’s not thundering, too.

Like most groups from Austin, a scene currently as hot as a mesquite grill, Zeitgeist is a bit weak in the vocal department. There are moments on Translate Slowly when Croslin and Longacre intersect- I’m thinking mostly of the beautiful, acoustic “Freight Train Rain”- and his throaty, casual Lou Reedisms and her high, bright voice seem nicely matched. Alone, though, neither has adequate range or force. Unlike most of its Austin sistren, this band writes lyrics playful and full of images, songs gentle and sometimes a little drunk on love.

The members of Zeitgeist beat the traps of modernizing folk rock by flooding it with their own ideas. Listen to the way they take a Duane Eddy twangalong and send it to the backwoods on “Hill Country Theme”, or the racing rewrite of Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” so changed it takes a few plays to recognize. Most of all, check out the ominous “Things Don’t Change”; drums fill the gaps with terse explosions as guitars fan out with roiling blasts and both singers holler on top. Zeitgeist pulls this music up by the roots and turns it into something like an epiphany.