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Country sound just one aspect of Crooks' alluring voice

Peter Mongillo
Crooks, made up of Andrew Vanvoorhees, Sam Alberts, Josh Mazour and Rob Bacak , release their album 'The Rain Will Come' this week.

The Mohawk, which tends to host indie rocks shows, has plenty of people bouncing around (and in to one another) on any given night. But dancing involving couples doing actual steps two-steps is another thing. That kind of thing happens in Austin, just not usually at the Red River music club.

That was the scene during this year's free week in January, however, when Austin's Crooks took their turn on the outside stage. It was not an isolated incident. Go see this band — who release their debut full-length album, "The Rain Will Come," this week — play, and more times than not, you will witness spontaneous dancing.

"They did it at Emo's once, too, and one of the guys who worked there came up and said, ‘I have never seen anyone dance like that at Emo's,' " Crooks front man Josh Mazour says. "I don't know where it comes from. I can't dance. I'll try every once in a while, but more often than not I'll step all over my girlfriend's toes."

The crowds, dancing and not, that seem to follow this band around town, combined with the seemingly endless stream of media praise here and from national outlets including MTV and CMT, points toward something bigger coming for the 4-year-old Crooks.

The people two-stepping at their shows reflects the band's country sound, and that's one element. But "The Rain Will Come," produced by Danny Reisch (who handled Shearwater's latest album), goes beyond the different definitions of country. The shadow of Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western compositions lingers over the band's sound, as does the hybrid music of the Texas Tornados — Tornados accordion player Flaco Jimenez even appears on the record.

The band met Jimenez after playing on a bill with him at Antone's. When a couple of songs seemed appropriate for accordion, they decided to ask him to contribute.

"It was way too easy," Mazour says. "We got him in there as fast as he could before he could change his mind. Nobody can take that from us either. It was recorded, it happened, that's something I've got forever now."

That's something that Mazour, soft-spoken and bearded in the fashion of many a country outlaw, probably wouldn't have dreamed of saying 10 years ago. Born in Omaha, Neb., he spent his early years in Boerne outside San Antonio. Country was in the air, but Mazour listened to rock.

"I had a neighbor when I lived in San Antonio, friends of my parents who lived across the street," Mazour says. "I was probably in fourth or fifth grade, and the husband played guitar, and he really started getting me into music. He gave me one of my first tapes, Nirvana's ‘Nevermind' on cassette."

He asked his parents for a guitar and never stopped playing.

Like thousands of others before and after him, Mazour left his hometown when he was 18 in 2000 for Austin with music on his mind.

"Music was what we did, but we were all just 18-year-olds that wanted to leave Boerne," he says.

Mazour played bass in what he describes as a "terrible garage band." At that point, he wasn't writing songs. He later played guitar in a different band, where he was introduced to harder rock like Hot Snakes and Unwound. When the leader of that band died of a drug overdose, Mazour walked away from music for a couple of years. When he returned, he found his way to country.

"Just one day I just decided — it wasn't like a conscious decision or anything — I just changed directions," he says.

When Crooks began it was a two-piece, with Mazour on guitar and vocals accompanied by a drummer. Mazour says his early songs sounded more like the Rolling Stones. Since then, the band has evolved, growing into a four-piece made up of Sam Alberts (guitar/trumpet/mandolin/banjo/harmonica/piano), Rob Bacak (drums) and Andrew Vanvoorhees (stand-up bass), with an accordion player joining in on some numbers.

Mazour says his songwriting continues to evolve. He talks about wanting to write more traditional country songs, but he says his attitude about his music changes frequently.

"That's the whole thing with songwriting — you can do whatever the hell you want," he says. He writes in his truck, an old aqua-green pickup that only has an AM radio dialed into a couple of country and Tejano stations he loses under bridges.

"It's always when you're not trying," he says. "One day I wake up and want to write something really sincere and moody, and the next day I don't care about that. Some guy hit my truck the other day, and we got into a big argument in the middle of the road, and I wrote a song joking about it." He sings a few bars of the new one, "Toe to Toe," in his South Texas twang: "Toe to toe I want to meet you, toe to toe I'll greet you, so step outside and let's go."

Contact Peter Mongillo at 445-3696

UPDATE: This story has been corrected to state that the Crooks' new album is the band's debut full-length, not their actual debut.

Crooks CD release show