Poetic Catharsis

Poetic Catharsis: The Reivers Overcome the Hype with Faulkner-Tinged Pop. By Todd Avery Shanker, Pulse, May 1989(?).

John Croslin’s Desert Island Discs:
1.Cuba– The Silos
2.Blonde on Blonde– Bob Dylan
3.Sgt. Pepper– The Beatles
4.Astral Weeks– Van Morrison
5.Moondance– Van Morrison
6.Get Happy– Elvis Costello
7.Pleased To Meet Me– The Replacements
8.Katy Lied– Steely Dan
9.Murmur– R.E.M.
10.Heavens– Big Dipper

Like the picaresque writing of William Faulkner, the sound and the fury of the Reivers’ quixotic music is animated with rich, compelling character sketches that gracefully skirt the line between personal experience and nostalgic fiction. And although the Reivers’ subtle, interweaving guitar jangle will bring inevitable comparisons to R.E.-you-know-who, nothing yet heard can approach the chilling combination of John Croslin’s deep, brooding murmur with opera-trained Kim Longacre’s hauntingly beautiful lilt. Add open air, sensory-swirling harmonies that are akin to sitting in the back of a speeding pickup truck on a gorgeous spring day, and the emotionally colored detail of the Reivers’ poetic catharsis will unfold before your very ears.

“I don’t think anyone would be interested in my life as it is. So I kinda go from what I know and then create an interesting story,” says colead vocalist and guitarist John Croslin, while feeding his baby some chicken soup. “For example, no one would really be interested in how I feel about taking out the trash, but if I wrote something dramatic that happened while I took out the trash, that’d be different and interesting.”

Dramatic, intensely moody and gloriously melodic, the band (Croslin, Longacre, Cindy Toth and Garrett Williams) first formed in 1984 under the name Zeitgeist and played to a small legion of devoted college bohemians around the University of Texas, in Austin. But after the release of their first album, Translate Slowly, a new age band with the same name (copyrighted) forced the band to transform its timely spiritual title into a less celestial one.

The band decided on the Reivers, the title of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel by William Faulkner, meaning theives or rogues. Disposing of any literary dogma associated with their music, however, Croslin adds with care, “Faulkner could get into the nitty-gritty of a person and describe what their soul was all about. That’s something we can only aspire to achieve through the lyrics and moods of our music.”

Nevertheless, songs such as “It’s About Time,” from the Reivers’ latest album End of the Day (Capitol/DB), divulge personal tragedies through wistful, Faulkneresque narratives. “That song is about a unique, unusual friend of mine who had the life beat out of him by people who couldn’t understand him,” says Croslin. “Sometimes you meet people with outrageous personalities and then you see them many years later and you say to yourself ‘Boy, they’ve really calmed down.’ In my friend’s case, he went insane.”

Avoiding the usual melodramatic cliches, the Reivers plumb the depths of life’s joys, sorrows and well…ordinariness. For example, on “Cut Above” Croslin weaves a tale of subtle sadness from outwardly neutral experiences as a cashier at a bookstore. “I kept seeing these people buy books like ‘How to Get Rich in 10 Minutes’ and ‘How to Get Everything You Want All The Time.’ The song basically puts the listener in the mind of those people and looks at how they would view someone simple like myself,” explains Croslin. “The song’s character doesn’t even have time to drive by his old house or to entertain a nice memory. He’s just too busy and too worried about being a success. But the saddest thing about this song is that there’s a part of this person in every one of us.”

The childhood nostalgia of visiting one’s grandparents’ house is the subject of “Star Telegram,” as images of “orange crushes, green rocks, lazy beds and polka dots/ break the quiet in the ether.” Vivid, colorful recollections slowly transform as they float across stream- of-consciousness lyrics.

But the Reivers go far beyond lyrical creativity, however, as its ghostly gorgeous music consistently sears the emotional psyche as well. Check out the remake of “Lazy Afternoon” from the Broadway musical “The Golden Apple” (made popular by Barbra Streisand), and you’ll hear Longacre’s crystalline voice soar through incense-burning guitars. Similarly, “Almost Home” features Croslin’s gruff-toned melancholia, which seeps like whiskey ‘n’ molasses through soft rainy guitars.

Blessed with the gift of interpretive musical and emotional alchemy, the Reivers’ intensely introverted and achingly forlorn tales invent a blissed-out vision of roots pop that succeeds through the sheer emotional sincerity of its band memebers. This loveable group of thieving ruffians is guaranteed to steal your heart.