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Wildfire – 2015 (Seafoam)

Reviewed by Robert Wooldridge

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CDs by Crooks

The second full-length release from the Austin-based band Crooks is a mix of classic country, Tex-Mex and country rock. Their reverence for country idols from the past is overtly proclaimed in the weeper "Sad Sad Song" ("My eyes are burning/I think I'm yearning/For a sad, sad song/By Hank I or II"), with additional nods to Townes Van Zandt, Emmylou Harris, Blaze Foley, Merle Haggard and George Jones. Another strong influence is Billy Joe Shaver, represented by an effective rendition of "The Git Go," the lone cover.

The classic country roots are also evident in the moody "Honeymoon" on which front man Josh Mazour's vocals are reminiscent of Hank Williams' "Ramblin' Man," while "The Hunted" thematically recalls Marty Robbins' "Hanging Tree" ("They strung that rope around that tree/That tree that's meant for me") and features some impressive whistling by lead guitarist Sam Alberts. Similarly, "New Mexico" begins with whistling before transitioning into a rocker that recalls the Violent Femmes' "Country Death Song."

One of the stronger tracks is the rocker "Fork in the Road," which begins with one of baseball legend Yogi Berra's most famous malapropisms and adds other bits of more realistic philosophical advice ("Don't grow tired and old trying to fill that mold/One that ain't you so don't fake it"). Other highlights are the Tex-Mex flavored "Coming Around Again" and the bluesy "Bar Nights."

Produced by Danny Reisch the 10 originals are jointly credited to Crooks. In addition to Mazour (vocals, guitar) and Alberts (guitar, trumpet), the instrumentation is solid throughout with Joseph McGill (bass), Doug Day (trumpet, percussion), Rob Bacak (drums) and particularly Anthony Ortiz, Jr. (accordion). With strong compositions and stellar performances, this is an impressive effort.