In fact, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Swindles. It must be frustrating to work your ass off to gain a solid reputation as the best rock band in San Antonio, only to be consistently overshadowed by less-talented Austin acts. Then again, it could actually be liberating, and might, in the end, have facilitated the kind of album that the Swindles are due to release this weekend.
Songs in the Key of T, the Swindles' second release, is the kind of album that seems to say: "Listen, these guys will go places - if their livers hold out, that is." The group lays down a fitting soundtrack for life in South Texas over 17 tracks, filled with bong-laden ennui and pick-up trucks, lost love and conjunto backbeats. The band also seems to have learned from past mistakes, and has wisely chosen to eschew overproduction for the kind of raw energy seen at their live shows.
While the Swindles' first album was chock-full of original material, the new one gives an appreciative nod to the band's forebearers. Austin songwriter Michael Hall and country music comic Ray Stevens are given their due here, and the powerhouse that was the Texas Tornados is afforded extended treatment (more on that later). But the original material - songs like "Leased Us a Bus" and "Queen of Kendall County" - sets the tone on Key of T. "Need You" is a tidily tender ditty for frontman Mitch Webb, whose smirky grin seems to infuse every song with a bit of sarcasm. Listen closely and you get a taste: "State says at 16, you can call your shots/Know what I think? Let's get on the milk box."
Webb's drawl shoots holes in put-on Texans (you know who you are) who have had to work hard to bring their accents up to standard. Then again, we're talking about a boy from Windcrest who claims to have learned his Spanish phonetically.
In fact, all the musicians on the album deserve to be here, if only for the simple joy they have taken in creating something special while at the same time holding onto day jobs. Guitar monster-in-the-corner Joe Reyes might be able to make his living strictly through gigs (such is the fate of Grammy-nominated musicians), but Mitch works at a record shop, and bassist Bart Nichols is a goddamned dentist! The revolving line-up (although it has solidified as of late) is rounded out by Sal Guajardo on drums, Dave Wasson on guitar, and a few appearances by Odie on bass, as well as Gabriel Zavala on squeezebox, Denny Mathis on pedal steel, Jack Barber on third bass, and Frank Karpienski playing lead guitar on a particularly 13th Floor Elevatorish version of "She's About a Mover."
This cut, coming at the end of the record, is like a fine dessert for Doug Sahm fans (like me) who moved to the Alamo City after the Great One's demise, and who have had to comfort themselves with weak covers of the Tornados and the Quintet. Not so with the Swindles: The group's versions of "Mover" and "Nuevo Laredo" might lead less-cautious folks to say that the Swindles can do Doug almost as well as Doug did himself. But then, less-cautious folks are likely to have their ass handed to them by Augie Meyer. Or Freddie Fender, for that matter, whose seminal "Before the Next Teardrop Falls" is lovingly handled by a crooning Webb.
So there: That's my review. Now bring it on, shitkickers!
THE SWINDLES CD RELEASE PARTY
$10 (CD included),
$5 (sans CD)
1719 Blanco Road