You all have been (and will likely continue to be) witness to my gradual acquaintance with country music. Through Austin acts like The Lonesome Heroes, Whiskey Shivers, and Wood & Wire, I’ve been able to explore various subgenres of the overarching behemoth known as Country. And yet nothing quite compares to Crooks when it comes to wrapping your mind around the expanse of the genre. Last month the Austin-based sometimes-quintet finally released their debut full-length, which had been accruing buzz ever since their 2010 EP, Lonesome, Rowdy, and Restless. The scope of the EP was impressive, and foreshadowed Crooks’ new album, The Rain Will Come in its stylistic reach – except that The Rain Will Come goes even further. This breadth of style hinders the album’s cohesion, ultimately, but reveals the versatility of this talented group.
I think Crooks is at their best in their No Depression-style alt.country. Songs like the title track, “Corn and Bread,” and “One Way to Live” draw heavily from the Uncle Tupelo school of hard knocks, while merging it with a more rollicking outlaw country sound. “Corn and Bread,” in particular, is a favorite of mine, with its heavy, thudding percussion and fabulous hook. And yet, it isn’t content to stick within one or two genres; the bridge brings in harmonizing trumpets right out of a spaghetti western.Crooks - 'Corn and Bread'
And then there’s the more traditional country songs. Lonesome, Rowdy holdover “Bar Stool” swings like a Charlie Daniels song from the 70s, and its awesome chorus makes it the most immediately memorable song on the album. “Earn My Right” (featuring some pleasant fiddling from Warren Hood) similarly draws from classic country sounds, and would sound right at home in a dive bar in East Texas. “Bendin’ Rules and Breakin’ Hearts” is a good ol’ country drinkin’ song in the vein of Johnny Cash.
Other songs take an even different traditional tack. “Pull Up Your Boots” and “Heart Achin’ Town” both draw heavily from Tejano and border country with prominent accordions and close trumpet harmonies. Neither goes straight into the genre, though. Across the entire album, Crooks melds subgenres with ease. They show a comfort with the material that belies frontman Josh Mazour’s rock roots (which come through a bit more on “My First Gun”).
The Rain Will Come is a solid debut with several good songs that helps justify the hype around Crooks. I still wish it were a bit less eclectic and a bit more cohesive, but Mazour and company clearly have a lot of ideas. Across most of the album, they are able to serve up genre hybrids that sound interesting and fresh. Catch them live on Saturday at the White Horse with Whiskey Shivers, which shares bassist Andrew VanVoorhees with Crooks. It’s a must-see show for any fan of alternative country or bluegrass music.