album swindles lonely.jpg

When I first saw Mitchell Justice Webb, he was eating fat flour tortillas smeared with beans and cheese at the Taco Cabana near Brackenridge Park, probably on break from managing the CD Exchange. He was about as unassuming as anyone else sucking down Dr. Pepper and brown salsa in quantity on a hot-ass SanAnto afternoon.

A few years later, and I’Â’d scrape up just enough couch change for a Lone Star Tall Boy to suck on and collapse under tough-love tree-shade in 112-degree heat, crumpled like an empty 12-pack carton thrown out a truck window on Broadway. In other words, my life had started to resemble a dog-eared yarn from a Mitch Webb song.

Even now, when I think of those days, Mitch and his band the Swindles provide the soundtrack for heat-stroked visions of dusty porches and yellowed lawns, cantineras with distinctive skin like wrinkled paper bags calling me “mi’jo” and setting up a Shiner neatly wrapped in napkin sweating like my forehead. Thoughts of old friends who dream of owning their own piece of Texas big enough to shoot a gun and have the bullet drop on their own land, their own proper place.

And oddly enough that makes me miss my home state and ache inside like an empty-stomach buzz at sundown.

Mitch Webb and the Swindles describe themselves on MySpace as “kind of a country garage rock band,” a description about as unassuming and down-home as Webb’s personal presence, and they list commonplace influences that honky-tonk through my head like viejitos doing the tacuache at Lerma’s: “Frito Pie, Doug Sahm, watermelon, Freddy Fender, enchiladas, 13th Floor Elevators, popsicles.” And don’t forget Los #3 Dinners!

Their recent and fourth release, ““The Lonely Kind,”” bears the imprint of Supreme Music Co., but dial their listed number and Mitch will probably pick up with a big “Howdy!” Following their tribute DVD/CD to the passing of famed rock-spot Taco Land and beloved wild-man owner Ram Ayala, this latest recording contrasts homespun humor on a range of roots covers with more deep country-ballad meditations from WebbÂ’s store of personal history.

I’Â’ve had the chance to write a few reviews over the years that touch on what the Swindles evoke as a Texas band with big chops minus big ego, like when they opened for Doug Sahm on a Quintet reunion some months before he passed: “”…the Sir Douglas Quintet represents San Antonio’s greatest pop hope of yesteryear, while any number of Swindles tunes could make this band known countrywide.” Closer to home, I tried to describe what the Swindles meant for my own experience of Texas: “Mitch Webb’s Tex-Mex balladeering and Spanglish twanging brings to mind being stuck driving through King Ranch on a Sunday afternoon in a pickup truck without A/C, the windows wide-open and radio cranking for a sing-a-long to pass the time.””

More plainly, I described their late-Â’’90s release “Drunk for Your Amusement” as “simply great hip-shaking, beer-drinking rock ‘n’ roll.” Grammy Winner Joe Reyes rocked the shit on tunes like ““H.E.B.” and ““Round Rock,”” and he returns on “”Lonely”” with distinctive journeyman fretwork to lay down solid musicianship behind WebbÂ’s drawling vocals and heart-heavy lyrics.
mitch alamo.jpg

But for the various covers, this release is pretty somber and true to its title. It kicks off with “”A Man Can Cry,”” a Freddy Fender doo-wop that opens the door for “”The Pig Song,”” a trad-ditty about hitting rock bottom and literally piggybacking with the only friend who will take you to the nearest liquor store. Though this is pretty playful stuff, WebbÂ’s recently passed-away sister, Dallas Louise Webb Wickham Grodman, contributed vocals on this track that becomes a sort of elegy to how much WebbÂ’s family has informed his musical and cultural background.

Not till the third song do we hear an original Webb composition, and it follows with Sergio Lara adding twinkling texture on mandolin in a flamenco-folk nexus. On this track, drunkenness and love vie for a manÂ’s heart even while both derange his senses beyond clarity. ItÂ’s an odd leap next to “”10,000 Years Ago (AKA The Bragging Song),”” a sort of country one-liner a la Kinky Friedman: ““I saw Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring around the roses/ And IÂ’ll lick the guy that says it isn’Â’t so.””

It’Â’s an interesting back-and-forth that seems to find the archetypal Texas troubador caught between sardonic, shit-kickin’ wit and searing, whiskey-chasing woe. For good measure, Webb throws in “”Blubberball”” by Claude Morgan and “”Dance a Cachuca”” by Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame).

It’Â’s the grit of sorrow and humor caught at the same moment that makes this release a Swindles gem, like the title track that sums up both the despair and hope I sometimes felt in my most solitary moments down South.

Like Mitch says on “”Cactus Blooms,”” ““Every man has his reasons for leaving.”” But Texas looms ever-present in my mind as a place I can always come home to with a hunger for a country-kind of happy ending: ““Gonna find me a sweet señorita/ Gonna buy me a parcel of land.””
swindles end.jpg

« »