There’s no shortage of country music in Crooks’ hometown of Austin, TX. But ask anyone who has crammed into a packed honky-tonk to catch one of their infamously rowdy late-night shows and they’ll tell you there’s something that sets them apart from the rest.

Crooks are breathing new life into decades-old musical traditions, stripping away the polish and shine of modern radio country and replacing it with earnest songs about life, work and pain. Sometimes it’s weary and lonesome, sometimes it’s downright bleak, and oftentimes it’s just reckless fun. Suddenly, country music is dangerous again.

Frontman Josh Mazour formed Crooks in 2007 as a two-piece band, playing stripped down sets at dive bars around Austin. Things have grown from there. He’s now joined by drummer Rob Bacak, stand-up bassist Andrew VanVoorhees, and multi-instrumentalist Sam Alberts, who alternates between guitar, banjo, mandolin, and trumpet. Live, Crooks are an even greater spectacle, as fiddle, trumpet, and accordion players jump on stage throughout their set.
Crooks released their debut LP ‘The Rain Will Come’ this year, featuring guest appearances from accordion legend Flaco Jimenez of the Texas Tornados, and produced by Danny Reisch, known for his work with other Austin luminaries like The Bright Light Social Hour, Okkervil River, Shearwater, and White Denim.

Mazour lists songwriting greats like Hank Williams Sr., Townes Van Zandt, Billy Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Blaze Foley and even Kurt Cobain as influences on his style, which he describes as “just unapologetic country songwriting.”

“Country music is honest music,” he says. “You can get straight to your point, and if no one likes it, that's fine. But you don't have to hide your feelings in tired metaphors and youthful whining.” ‘The Rain Will Come’ has been a resounding success, kicking down doors for the band on a national level. American Songwriter called it “a driving slice of country noir,” and praised it as “rugged and lonesome,” saying “this style of country music makes you want to keep your tab open.” KUT-FM put their money on Crooks as the “Austin artist most likely to score big in 2012,” while the Austin American-Statesman predicts that “the seemingly endless stream of media praise… points toward something bigger coming.” But Mazour takes it all in stride. “I write songs because it's the only thing I'm good at doing. I have no idea what else to do with myself at this point,” he says. “I know I'm still gonna piss some people off, make mistakes, and that I have a lot to learn. If I write a drinking song, it's probably because I went to sleep at six in the morning the night before. That's another thing that sets us apart from a lot of country musicians. I don't think these some of these guys even go to bars anymore. We do, a lot.”

Shane Walker

Based out of Waco, TX (by way of Austin), Shane Walker is a songwriter, a beekeeper and a high school Spanish teacher.

“You’d be surprised how similar they are,” he laughs. “Bees are not the only creatures in nature that sting when they are unhappy.You kind of have to go into it knowing that it's gonna hurt a little bit every now and then. But that really only adds to the experience."

Long before working with bees or teenagers, Walker began his music career in 2002 by winning the University Songwriter Competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival – the same year he founded the Austin-based alt-country band The Gougers. In seven years touring the United States (and opening for country greats like Willie Nelson, Roseanne Cash, Marty Stuart and Ricky Skaggs), Walker and the Gougers (also featuring Jamie Wilson of The Trishas) put out three records, culminating in A Long Day for the Weathervane, which spent six weeks in the AMA Radio Chart’s top-10 with over 10,000 spins nationwide.

In 2010, shortly after the breakup of The Gougers, Walker paired with longtime friend Brian Beken (The South Austin Jug Band, Milkdrive) to form a rock group called St. Cloud.

“That was the culmination of an idea that started with a record called Juarez by Terry Allen,” he says, referring to Allen’s 1975 release. “The idea was to put a band together as a side project to perform the songs from Juarez live, while we hired our friends to interpret the action on stage – like a play. Those practice sessions turned into us writing a bunch of music together that ended up being St. Cloud songs. And some of those songs eventually found their home on my record.”

That solo record, produced by Beken and engineered by Nick Jay (Band of Heathens, Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights), is scheduled for a winter 2014 release. Though very much rooted in alt-country and folk music, this record takes a sharp turn to the left from previous recordings with The Gougers.

“Being creative is all about starting over,” Walker says. “Good beekeepers know this. Effective teachers know this. That’s what art is and that’s what life is. And although I could never escape the musical roots I have planted – I would never want to – somewhere along the line I wanted to get past some of the restrictions you find in the more traditional musical styles.”

The result is a sophisticated new indie release, with big sonic ambitions (think Wilco/My Morning Jacket) and acute attention to lyrics (think Gillian Welch/Gram Parsons) that will appeal to hillbilly hipsters and the NPR crowd alike.



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