Ahead of their time, or out of their time? The Reivers was cut from the same indie cloth as R.E.M., only they were more polished and less arty-farty than Michael Stipe and other Southern guitar bands of the jangle period. When R.E.M. enjoyed its big breakthrough in 1987 with the ironically deadpan “The One I Love”, the Reivers released its major label opus on Capitol Records, a finely etched album of stories called Saturday.
But it wasn’t any collection of gothic folk songs, thanks to the soaring vocal harmonies between guitarists John Croslin and Kim Longacre, layered neatly around Garrett Williams’ hyper propulsive drumming. The record opens smartly with a mid-tempo tale of confusion “What Am I Doing”, but coalesces into pop perfection indicating they knew what to do all along. On the next track, “A Test”, Williams’ work on the tom toms by itself is ecstatic.
At the time, a review in Rolling Stone described the band as a hybrid of X and the Pretenders, but in retrospect that assessment doesn’t do the Reivers justice because Croslin’s songwriting was far more elliptical, far more indeed like a William Faulkner passage than anything John Doe or Chrissie Hynde would compose. If anything, the Reivers was a post-punk Fleetwood Mac. Even more tellingly, Croslin and Longacre were willing to quiet their dueling guitars to a near hush, while Cindy Toth would gently ease off the bass lines, sometimes for the length of an entire song if necessary, to set the proper mood. At the tip of a cowboy hat, they could head in any musical direction, as the quartet was also known for gut-busting instrumentals—with silly titles like “Karate Party” and “Dude Man Hey”—playing fierce enough that you can still hear the pure joy in their extended jamming.
Other than the wild improvisations, each album has a very different feel. Saturday is bigger, brassier, the bolder of the two, probably courtesy of producer Don Dixon (who guided early R.E.M. in the studio), but that makes End of the Day a somewhat more intimate affair, giving a glimpse into the band’s real life with tales of coming home to family and daily laments. If they were movies, Saturday would be A Beautiful Mind in its broad scope and appeal, and End of the Day would be the quieter In the Bedroom. Both are very worthy but coming from different places.
In the two years between the two records, the Reivers went from the wistfulness of singing about a moment with a lover on a Saturday afternoon in the former record’s title track, to songs centered on the hearth and more mature relationships. It was taken as a sign of growing up that they covered “Lazy Afternoon” on the latter release—which was co-produced by Andy Metcalfe (Robyn Hitchcock) and Croslin—but the fact they were doing show tunes is just an example of their encompassing tastes. The back cover of End of the Day even featured Longacre’s kitchen, showing a refrigerator plastered with family snapshots and plastic magnetic letters. Sadly, the reconfigured artwork loses that homey touch but at least care was taken with the overall mastering.
Musically the CDs are like a pair of crystal bells, clear enough to reveal small pleasures like the buzz of guitar strings not apparent back in the time of vinyl. There’s a sonic punch on these releases not discernable on the original pressings, making the music sound bright and fresh, even revealing emotional subtleties like a new melancholy on the latter record’s “He Will Settle It”.
If that’s not enough, there is a pair of quirky bonus cuts on each album, an original and a cover tune. The Reivers may have been the little band that could, but they were also the band that knew when to pull out the plug and call the game, seemingly always one step ahead, a cut above the rest, as another song goes. After releasing a fourth album, Pop Beloved in 1991 that’s technically still in print, they called it quits as a band with some pursuing music and others concentrating on other matters. Perhaps the most perfect pop band to form and record in Austin, Texas, the group’s heyday in the late ‘80s seems all too brief now that we’re in one of those periodic pop music slumps. Truly you can’t go home again but you can still turn up the volume knob and sing along once your children have packed for school.
// Notes from the Road
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